The recall election is just over three weeks away and campaigning for the first part of the ballot — to recall Gov. Davis — is now starting to rev up. The “NO” on recall campaign has Dianne Feinstein commercials airing throughout the state in which she talks about the harm it would do to California and its residents. Gray Davis started airing his commercials on Tuesday (Sept. 9) against the recall as well. So far, there have been no specific commercials airing just for the vote “YES” on recall, but individual candidates have been dealing with the recall in their personal messages.

There is unprecedented interest in the recall election — not seen in most other elections. More than six in 10 likely voters say they are “very” interested in following the recall election, compared to just 38% of voters prior to the gubernatorial election in 2002. Who will turn out to vote is the unknown factor in determining whether the recall will pass and if so, who will be the next governor. It is like playing a chess game — you cannot just think of the current situation, but you have to anticipate who will turn out to vote as it gets closer to the election.

According to a new Los Angeles Times Poll, the vote on the recall measure has tightened to within three points. Fifty percent of likely voters would vote to recall Governor Davis, while 47% would vote against the measure. Just three percent are undecided. In a Times’ August poll, there was a five point difference — 50% of likely voters said they would vote to recall the governor, while 45% would vote against it. The survey shows the second part of the ballot, has Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante and actor/businessman Arnold Schwarzenegger to within 5 points of each other with state Senator Tom McClintock in third place. Among likely voters, 30% would vote for Bustamante, 25% for Schwarzenegger and 18% for McClintock. (Ueberroth received 8% of the vote, but he dropped out of the race while the poll was in the field.) Three percent of likely voters would vote for Arianna Huffington, 2% for Peter Camejo, while 8% would not vote for a candidate and 5% are undecided. As will be discussed later, each candidate has problems that they will have to overcome in order to win on Oct. 7.

Recall of Governor Davis

In order to understand the chances of the recall measure passing or failing, one must identify the voters for each side. For instance, Gov. Davis must look to his core group of voters to help stave off his opponents — union members, minorities, women, Democrats and liberals. On the other hand, the recall measure has to win large percentages of Republicans, conservatives, white and younger voters in order for the ballot measure to pass.

Since the energy crisis, the governor’s job approval rating and favorability ratings have been dismal. His job rating fell lower than any governor had received since the Times asked the question. Although the poll shows the same negative opinions that voters had of Davis in previous polls, this poll shows that he has stopped the bleeding. In the August Times poll, 26% of likely voters approved of the way Davis handled his job as governor, while 72% disapproved. In the current poll, 34% of likely voters rate his job performance positively, while 63% still have negative feelings.

In the August poll, 33% of likely voters had a favorable impression of the governor, while 65% had unfavorable opinions. In the current poll, nearly two out of five likely voters have positive feelings, while 60% still have negative feelings.

Demographics

Party ID and political ideology: Gov. Davis has to shore up more of the Democrats and especially moderate Democrats. This poll shows that almost four out of five Democrats (79%) likely to vote will not support the recall, while almost a fifth will. Surprisingly, three in 10 moderate Democratic likely voters say they will vote yes to recall the governor. Their share of voting yes on the recall is up 10 points since last month’s poll. On the other hand, virtually all liberal Democratic likely voters say they will vote no on the recall (one in 10 will vote to recall Davis). In reviewing L.A. Times’ exit polls from past elections, Democrats supported the Democratic candidate much more heartily than they are now supporting Davis in the recall election, with one exception. In the 2002 gubernatorial election, Davis captured 81% of the Democratic voters and he barely beat Republican Bill Simon, 47%–42%. In 1998, 90% of the Democrats voted for the governor and he handily beat Republican Dan Lungren by 20 points. In the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections, former President Bill Clinton and Democratic candidate Al Gore each received roughly 90% of the Democratic voters as well and they each won solidly against their Republican opponents. The smaller share of Democrats voting against the recall would suggest a problem spot for the governor.

Conservative Republicans who are likely to vote are overwhelmingly for the recall (90%), as well as more than two-thirds of moderate Republicans. Almost three in 10 moderate Republicans say they will vote against the recall. However this is an eight point decrease from the Poll’s findings last month.

Independents or declined-to-state likely voters (including minor party voters) are splitting their vote on the recall, 50% for the recall and 47% against it. This is a substantial shift since the August poll when independents were voting 64% to 36% in favor the recall.

About as many likely voters who describe themselves as conservative are voting yes to recall Gov. Davis (85%) as likely voters who describe themselves as liberal are voting against the recall (82%). Self-described moderates who are likely to vote are more inclined to vote against the recall (53%) than for it (43%).

Gender, race and age: There is a gender gap on the first part of the recall ballot. Nearly three-fifths of likely male voters will vote to recall Gray Davis, while 54% of likely female voters will vote against the recall. More importantly, Davis has to woo back Democratic men. A quarter of Democratic men will vote yes on the recall vs. 14% for Democratic women.

White voters make up about 70% of likely voters in the poll and this group is voting to recall the governor. Fifty-four percent of white likely voters say they will vote yes to recall Gray Davis, while 43% will vote no. Black likely voters are overwhelmingly against the recall (subgroup too small to break out). In some bad news for Davis — 53% of Latino likely voters are voting yes on the recall and 41% are voting no. This is a significant net negative change from the August poll. In that survey, 45% of Latino likely voters were against the recall and 39% were for it. Latinos make up about 11% of the likely voters in the current poll. (As an aside, in the past Latinos decide late in an election, so it would be important to look for any shifts from this group. This has been evident in voting against Propositions 187, the anti-illegal immigration initiative and 226, the affirmative action initiative.)

The younger voters, 18–44, are solidly behind the recall (63%), while likely voters between the ages 45 and 64 are against the recall (54%) and the elderly (65+) are divided (48% each for and against the recall). The 18–29 year old group is too small to give an actual percentage, but they are overwhelmingly in favor of recalling Gov. Davis and are dividing their vote among the top three candidates. (This younger group historically does not turn out in large numbers, so it will be interesting to note if their enthusiasm for Schwarzenegger will motivate them to vote. Conversely, older voters are the ones who historically vote and this may be some good news for Gov. Davis. However, in the August poll, the elderly, 65+, were against the recall (51%), while 46% were for it.)

Union household: Union voters were the meat of Gray Davis’ vote in 1998 and 2002 and he hopes they will support him in the recall election. Unions have contributed lots of money to the “No on Recall” campaign and endorsed Davis as governor. Hesitantly, they have endorsed Cruz Bustamante as a safeguard to keep a Democrat in office just in case the recall ballot wins. So, it was interesting to note that union members and/or union households are supporting the recall. The union leaders have yet to begin their push with their rank and file and these numbers may turn around. But for Davis, this must not be good news. Fifty-one percent of union households likely to vote are supporting the recall, while 45% of union households are against the recall.

California regions: As you would expect, the Bay Area and Los Angeles county voters are solidly against the recall (70%, 58% respectively), while voters in the rest of southern California and the Central Valley are heavily in favor of the recall (63%, 64% respectively). The rest of northern California voters are split — 50% in favor of the recall and 47% against.

Share of the electorate

Who is more energized to come out to vote? The current registration figures from the Secretary of State show that Democrats make up about 44% of the voters, Republicans make up about 35%, declined-to-state voters are 16% of registration and 5% of the voters belong to minor parties. The Times poll shows that Republicans are somewhat more motivated to come out to vote than Democrats. Forty-five percent of likely voters are Democrats, 16% independents and 39% are Republicans. (In the Times 2002 exit poll for governor, 46% of the voters were Democrats, 40% Republicans and 14% were independents and minor party members.) And conservatives are also more energized. In the 2002 Times gubernatorial exit poll, 35% said they were liberal, 30% moderate and 35% conservative. In the latest poll, 38% of likely voters consider themselves conservative, while 34% say they are liberal and 26% describe themselves as moderates.