California’s recall election played out along established partisan lines, according to a California exit poll conducted for CNN and other news networks by Edison Research, with voters’ views on Gov. Gavin Newsom closely tied to their broader political views. In a state as blue as California, that was enough for Newsom to survive a Republican-backed recall effort and remain in office, CNN projected Tuesday.
About 45% of voters in the recall described themselves as Democrats, with about one-quarter calling themselves Republicans and roughly 3 in 10 describing themselves as independents. Democrats and Republicans broke overwhelmingly along party lines on the recall, while those independents who voted were about evenly split.
A 57% majority of voters approved of Newsom’s job performance. There was an intensity gap, with more strongly disapproving than strongly approving. Voters’ views on whether the Democratic governor is in touch with Californians like them closely mirrored his overall approval numbers.
About half of voters had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, while just about one-third had a favorable view of the Republican Party. Those with favorable views of only the Democrats were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the recall, with those favoring only the Republican Party similarly overwhelming in voting for Newsom’s ouster. Voters with negative views of both parties – about 13% of the electorate – broke largely in favor of the recall.
A 55% majority of recall election voters reported having voted for Joe Biden in 2020, slightly lower compared with Biden’s actual vote share in the state, which was just shy of 64%. Biden’s job approval among voters in the recall stands around 58%. Roughly 9 in 10 voters who approved of him also approved of Newsom; more than 90% of those who disapproved of Biden disliked California’s governor as well.
A majority of voters said they’d be either concerned or scared if Newsom were recalled, with fewer saying they’d be optimistic or excited.
Larry Elder, among the most prominent of the Republican candidates who ran to replace Newsom, got negative ratings, with about a third of voters viewing him favorably and about half viewing him unfavorably. More than 9 in 10 of those who viewed Elder favorably supported recalling Newsom.
California voters largely made up their minds early, with many casting ballots by mail ahead of Election Day. About two-thirds of voters said they’d made up their minds on how to vote in the recall prior to August, and nearly 9 in 10 that they’d decided prior to September.
The Covid-19 pandemic remained at the top of voters’ minds, with about one-third saying it’s the biggest issue for the state. That’s followed by just more than one-fifth saying homelessness, about 1 in 6 saying the economy and wildfires, respectively, and slightly under one-tenth saying crime. Concerns varied across partisan lines: More than 4 in 10 Democrats called coronavirus their top issue, while only about one-fifth of Republicans said the same. On the flip side, Republicans were more than three times as likely as Democrats to name the economy as their top concern.
Those who called the pandemic or wildfires the state’s top concern overwhelmingly opposed the recall, as did a smaller majority of those who said California’s biggest issue is homelessness. About two-thirds of voters who called the economy the biggest issue favored removing Newsom, as did roughly 9 in 10 of those who said crime is the biggest concern.
Voters had mixed outlooks on the pandemic’s course in California, with about 4 in 10 saying the situation is getting better, 3 in 10 that it remains about the same and just under one-quarter that it’s worsening.
Women made up slightly more than half the electorate in the California recall, just as they did in the 2020 presidential election and the 2018 gubernatorial race. White voters narrowly made up the majority of the electorate, the exit poll data finds, with the remainder people of color. In 2020 exit polling, about half the electorate was White; in 2018, it was 63%.
Less than half of the electorate, about 47%, said Newsom’s policies on the pandemic have been about right, with 3 in 10 calling his policies too strict and the remainder saying they’re not strict enough. Roughly two-thirds of “yes” voters said Newsom’s policies were too strict; most “no” voters called Newsom’s Covid-19 restrictions about right, although roughly a quarter of recall opponents thought his policies should have been stricter.
There was broad support for Covid mitigation measures, with roughly 70% of voters favoring mask requirements in schools and more than 6 in 10 saying that getting vaccinated is more of a public health responsibility than it is a personal choice. Nearly all who oppose school mask mandates voted to recall Newsom.
Californians were close to evenly split on the state of California’s economy, with about half calling it good or excellent, and the rest calling it not so good or poor. Voters took a more negative view about the costs of living in their own parts of California, with around 6 in 10 saying that those costs are at least somewhat unmanageable.
About 80% of California voters said climate change is at least a somewhat serious issue, with roughly 6 in 10 calling it very serious. Nearly 90% of voters who opposed the recall said climate change is very serious, while only about one-quarter of recall supporters said the same.
The California CNN exit poll is a combination of in-person interviews with Election Day voters and telephone and online polls measuring the views of absentee by-mail and early voters. It was conducted by Edison Research on behalf of the National Election Pool. In-person interviews on Election Day were conducted at a random sample of 30 California polling locations among 3,266 Election Day voters. The results also include 1,352 interviews with early and absentee voters conducted by phone, online or by text. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.
This story has been updated with additional findings from the California CNN exit poll.