Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses state elections.
The successful recall of the governor in 2003 occurred in a very different political context. Governor Gray Davis had been reelected by a 5-point margin in November 2002 (47% to 42%). Newsom was elected by a 24-point margin in November 2018 (62% to 38%). Democrats had a 9-point edge over Republicans in voter registration (44% to 35%) in 2003; today, they have a 22-point edge (46% to 24%). Moreover, seven in ten California likely voters disapproved of Gray Davis during the year of the recall (72% February 2003; 75% June 2003; 72% July 2003; 72% August 2003; 71% September 2003). And leading up to the recall election, at least half of California likely voters said they would vote to remove Davis as governor (51% June 2003, 50% July 2003; 58% August 2003, 53% September 2003). Ultimately, 55% voted to remove him in October 2003. By contrast, fewer than half have said they disapprove of Newsom in the 13 surveys we have conducted since he took office, and today four in ten want to remove him.
The political wildcard in the 2021 governor’s recall is the replacement candidates. In 2003, 135 candidates ran to replace Davis and four of them received at least 1% of the vote. But it was the surprise entry of action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger that changed the election’s dynamics. Currently, a few candidates have indicated their desire to run in 2021 but none have the qualities of Arnold Schwarzenegger or the statewide electoral track record of Gavin Newsom. Will a charismatic leader appear who has the name recognition and sufficient resources to mount a successful statewide campaign?