Why Did the California Recall Fail?

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

The recall of California Governor Gavin Newsom was always a longshot.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Golden State 2 to 1, which always meant that Newsom was in a strong position to hold onto his job, and recent polls also showed he had little to worry about. By the time of the election, “No, Do Not Remove” had a RealClearPolitics average of +14.5, which was still closer than the Democrats’ advantage in voter registration. But as much as it was a longshot, for about a month during August, “Yes, Remove” had a narrow lead in the RealClearPolitics average. It was obvious that regardless of the polls, turnout would be the key to this election. And Democrats knew that. You wouldn’t bring in Kamala Harris and Joe Biden to campaign for Newsom if the recall wasn’t a legitimate threat. And they were brought in to help boost turnout amongst Democrats willing to turn a blind eye to the ways Newsom has failed the state. Clearly, there were enough of these Democrats to secure his position as governor… at least until the next election.

But that doesn’t mean the recall couldn’t have succeeded. Journalist Tim Pool posits that the recall failed because Republican voters didn’t show up.

He points to California’s voting numbers in the 2020 presidential election compared to Tuesday’s recall.

In November 2020, President Trump received over six million votes in California, while only just under 3.3 million voters voted to remove Newsom.

Had every person who voted for Trump voted to recall Newsom, Larry Elder would have been elected governor of California on Tuesday.

Of course, turnout for the recall was never going to be as high as it was for the presidential election, but Pool has a point. Even if the recall was doomed to fail, Newsom’s inevitable triumph didn’t have to send him the message that he’ll never be held accountable while in office. But, when you look at the numbers, what other message does he get? He didn’t just barely survive; he outperformed the polls and won comfortably. Had Republicans come out in greater numbers, and given that Republicans started the recall process, their enthusiasm for the recall should have closed the turnout gap a significant amount. But it didn’t. For whatever reason, Republicans didn’t turn out at a much higher rate than usual. I never expected Newsom to be recalled, but I had hoped that it would have been a lot closer than 28 points against removing him. Have California Republicans given up? Did they figure Newsom would survive and decide it wasn’t worth their time voting?

I get it. I know what it’s like to live in a hopelessly blue state. In my life, I’ve lived in Massachusetts and New York. So I understand that voting in the state can feel like a futile effort. But that’s no reason not to turn out. The only way to take the state back is to show up.


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