Gov. Gavin Newsom has a strong lead for reelection as his November showdown with Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle approaches, even though voters see the state on the wrong track.
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Nearly a year after crushing a Republican-led recall attempt, Gov. Gavin Newsom leads his GOP challenger by more than 2 to 1 in the 2022 governor’s race, even though a majority of voters express dissatisfaction about where California is headed, a new poll shows.
Newsom has the backing of 52% of registered voters, compared with 25% who favor Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, a Northern California conservative who remains a political obscurity among most of the electorate, according to the latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.
Only 19% of voters said they were undecided, making it unlikely that the Republican will have room to close the gap before the November election.
More than half of California voters — 53% — approve of Newsom’s job as governor, the poll found. That’s a slight increase from February and is his strongest approval rating since the summer of 2020, during his administration’s initial coronavirus response.
Newsom gets heavy support from voters who say they’re particularly concerned about the environment and combating climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and defending abortion rights — topics the governor has put at the center of his reelection campaign.
Mark DiCamillo, who directs the Berkeley poll, said Newsom’s approval numbers are impressive given that the survey showed that 52% of registered voters said California is headed in the wrong direction, versus 40% who said the opposite.
While a clear sign of discontent, the number saying the state is headed in the wrong direction is far less than it was in 2010, the height of the Great Recession, when 80% of voters felt that way. And Californians have a more positive view of the state than of the nation: The poll found that 74% said the U.S. is on the wrong track.
ELECTION 2022: CALIFORNIA
More coverage of the race for governor
➤ Voters dissatisfied about direction of California but still back Newsom, poll shows (Los Angeles Times)
➤ With a triumphant primary win, Newsom eyes the road ahead (Los Angeles Times)
➤ Newsom pins political rise on abortion, guns and health care (Kaiser Health News)
➤ What would Brian Dahle do as California governor? (CalMatters)
➤ In governor’s race, challengers attack Newsom’s record on homelessness (Los Angeles Times)
➤ Where’s Trump? A campaign fixture in some states, his name is nearly absent in California (CalMatters)
➤ Newsom seizes on the fight over abortion as a key part of his reelection campaign (Los Angeles Times)
As those national numbers suggest, California voters don’t necessarily hold the governor accountable for the problems that concern them most — including the steep increase in inflation, the spike in gas prices earlier this summer and overall financial distress — DiCamillo said.
Newsom also benefited from this year’s $101.4-billion budget surplus, which enabled the state to send more money to schools, expand healthcare benefits and set aside $17 billion in relief payments for families, seniors, low-income Californians and small businesses feeling the financial pinch.
“With any politician, their political ratings are viewed through the prism of how things are going. Fortunately for Newsom, the state is flush with money,” DiCamillo said. “Still, voters aren’t feeling really that positive about the economy and their own financial situation.”
The poll found that Newsom possesses political vulnerabilities. A majority of California voters whose primary concerns are crime, taxes, government regulation and immigration gave Newsom negative marks.
Dahle’s ability to use those issues against Newsom is limited, however. While Dahle is by far the favorite among Republicans and holds his own against Newsom in the conservative, northernmost parts of California, he lags behind the governor in almost every other voter category, the poll found.
Democrats make up nearly half the state’s registered voters, and Newsom leads overwhelmingly among them. He also leads Dahle, 47% versus 20%, among nonpartisan voters, a bloc roughly the same size as Republicans. Newsom leads in nearly all regions of the state, with men and women and among all major racial and ethnic groups.
Dahle remains scarcely known by California voters, with nearly 6 out of 10 saying they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion. More than 90% of voters know Newsom, with 53% having a favorable opinion and 39% a sour one, the poll found.
Newsom also enjoys a massive edge in campaign fundraising, with $24 million cash on hand, compared with Dahle’s $300,000, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the state. That reflects not only Newsom’s political strength in California but also the advantages and power of incumbency.
The most recent time a sitting California governor lost a regular general election was in 1966, when Republican and future President Ronald Reagan defeated Democrat Edmund G. “Pat” Brown.
Given those advantages, there’s almost “no chance” that Newsom will lose in the November general election, said Sacramento State political scientist Kim Nalder.
His decisive defeat of the September recall effort, in which he castigated the Republican candidates trying to unseat him as far-right, anti-vaccination sycophants of former President Trump, practically cemented Newsom’s 2022 reelection, Nalder said.
That victory liberated Newsom and allowed him to heighten his role as a voice for progressives nationwide. He has criticized the timidity of national Democratic leaders and attacked Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas for banning or restricting access to abortion, vilifying LGBTQ Americans and undermining election integrity.
Newsom’s first television ad of the general election aired in Florida, not California. In the July 4 TV spot, Newsom contrasted the policies in both states, flashed an image of Trump and DeSantis and criticized Republican leaders for “banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors.”
“There’s certainly a case to be made that it’s in his favor, and his national profile, to be seen as a pugilistic Democrat. A liberal with a left hook is what people are hungering for on the Democratic side right now,” Nalder said. “That’s sort of the dream candidate for a lot of Democrats given Biden’s moderation. Biden’s being so careful, and that’s frustrating a lot of people in his party.”
Newsom’s recent splashes in the national scene have led to speculation about a possible presidential run in 2024, though he has repeatedly denied it. Even if the White House is not in the near future, Newsom’s attacks on GOP governors will only solidify his support among Democrats in California, Nalder said.
Of course, the back and forth between the California and Florida governors also increases DeSantis’ appeal among Republicans, as well as his standing among potential GOP presidential candidates.
“Knocking DeSantis down a notch is going to be insanely popular in California, especially among Democrats,” Nalder said. “California for decades has been a punching bag for the right, so this helps DeSantis too.”
The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll surveyed 9,254 registered California voters Aug. 9-15. The poll was administered online in English and Spanish. The estimated overall sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.