Will Californians recall their governor? USC experts assess the campaign to recall Gov. Newsom
September 1, 2021
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Californians will decide the fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 14, marking the second gubernatorial recall vote in state history. In 2003, voters recalled Gray Davis and elected Arnold Schwarzenegger governor; this time, the California ballot asks voters whether to remove Newsom, and it asks them to pick a single candidate from a large field of 46 to replace him. But many voters aren’t even aware that the off-cycle recall election is taking place. USC experts are offering perspective and analysis.
On Sept. 1 at noon, USC Dornsife’s Center for the Political Future host a live, virtual forum: “To Recall or Not? Assessing the campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.”
Why California issues are missing from recall messaging
Jennifer Cryer is an assistant professor of political science and international relations at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and a panelist for the Sept. 1 event, “To Recall or Not? Assessing the Campaign to Recall Gavin Newsom.”
“State elections tend not to focus primarily on national wedge issues and they don’t typically focus on national political figures without a local context,” Cryer said. “But in this instance, from all the messaging and outreach I’ve been seeing, the candidates really want to draw attention back to key national figures and to contentious national issues such as pandemic-related lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates.”
- Republican candidates vying to replace Newsom, such as conservative talk show host Larry Elder, are focusing on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Biden administration in some social media campaign messaging.
- The candidates’ messaging lacks a local or regional California context, instead leveraging polarized national issues.
- This explains why the most likely to participate in this off-cycle election are either very ardent Democrats or very ardent Republicans who vote in every election.
Newsom’s COVID-19 response is on the ballot
Dan Schnur is an adjunct professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and leads the nonpartisan Voter Communication Task Force, which is working to ensure voters know how to register and vote in the California gubernatorial recall election.
“None of the Republicans on the ballot can beat Gavin Newsom. But COVID-19 can,” Schnur said. “The recall election wouldn’t be happening without the coronavirus. It was getting almost no attention or support until last winter when the pandemic worsened and until Newsom himself made the disastrous decision to attend a lobbyist’s birthday party while Californians were being told to avoid public gatherings.”
- Because the state is so heavily Democratic, Newsom will probably survive the recall.
- As the COVID-19 delta variant has gotten worse, so have the governor’s poll numbers.
- Newsom must find a way to motivate the Democratic base to turn out for an election that doesn’t really interest them. That will be a lot easier if voters aren’t worried about another shutdown.
It’s all about turnout
Robert Shrum is the director of the Center for the Political Future at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He will moderate a Sept. 1 panel discussion on the recall.
“The recall is all about turnout. A majority clearly oppose it and Democrats are engaging in a media campaign and a ground game designed to motivate voting,” Shrum said. “It helps them that everyone is being mailed a ballot and it’s very easy to fill out.”
- Strategically, Democrats have focused on repeating a single message for the recall election: voting “no.”
- By avoiding talking about the second question on the recall — any of the 46 potential replacement candidates — Democrats are maximizing the impact of their messaging.
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Many voters are unaware of the recall election
Mindy Romero is a political sociologist and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy (CID) at the USC Price School of Public Policy. Her research focuses on political behavior and race/ethnicity and seeks to explain patterns of voting and political underrepresentation.
“What’s concerning about the upcoming recall election is that many California voters or potential voters aren’t aware that the recall is coming up, what the choices are and what’s at stake,” Romero said. “This is likely even more true for historically underrepresented groups who often receive less information and outreach about elections.”
- The pressure is on Gov. Newsom to energize his base and for replacement candidates to make their case.
- It’s critical to motivate voters to go to the polls and ensure an election that is as representative as possible for all groups and communities in California.
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