Poll shows Californians give Newsom high marks on COVID-19, low marks on addressing homelessness

Homeless camps line Los Angeles, Main and Spring streets as they cross over the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles.
Homeless camps line Los Angeles, Main and Spring streets as they cross over the Hollywood Freeway in downtown Los Angeles.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic helped put him in such good graces with California voters that his approval rating is among the highest of any governor in the past 50 years at the same point in their first term, according to a new poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.

But the poll released Tuesday also shows that Newsom’s popularity is being tempered by intense voter dissatisfaction over the Democratic governor’s handing of homelessness in the state and California’s high housing costs.

In spite of that frustration among voters, the survey demonstrates that Newsom is currently enjoying an extremely strong political standing — even after he was forced to manage a litany of crises during his first two years in office including historic wildfires, rolling blackouts, a pandemic and a whipsawed state economy.

“He’s got political capital to spend and, you know, he may need to spend it,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll.

Voters are seeing homelessness persist in their neighborhoods and are also feeling the financial pinch of high rents and out-of-reach home prices, DiCamillo said. Though those intractable issues defy quick-fix solutions, voters clearly feel Newsom has done a poor job handling them, he said.

And there might be more trouble on the horizon. The economic devastation caused by the pandemic also has sapped state tax revenue, a problem that could force Newsom and state lawmakers to slash funding next year for state safety net programs and stall ambitious political agendas. Economic downturns have been one of the greatest political perils California governors face, DiCamillo said.

“He’s in a very solid position but, again, I have seen governors’ job ratings turn south very quickly in the face of bad news coming out of Sacramento,” said DiCamillo, who conducted statewide opinion surveys for the Field Poll before joining the Berkeley IGS.

The Berkeley poll found that 64% of likely California voters approved of the job Newsom has done as governor, compared to 36% who disapprove.

The high approval numbers account for the majority of voters in all age groups and major regions of the state, as well as among white, Latino and Black people, and voters who identified as Asian/Pacific Islander. Among Democrats, 88% give Newsom high marks, while just 17% of Republicans do so. And among independent voters — those who register as “No Party Preference” — 63% approve of the job Newsom has done.

Over the past 50 years, the only other California governors with similar job approval numbers after their first two years in office were Republican George Deukmejian in the 1980s and Jerry Brown in the 1970s, DiCamillo said, basing that conclusion on Field Polls conducted during those times.

Newsom‘s job approval ratings have risen roughly 6 percentage points among Democrats, Republicans and independents since the last IGS poll on his job approval rating in 2019, and the poll’s findings indicate that Newsom’s response to the pandemic is a major reason why, DiCamillo said.

Among those surveyed, 49% said that Newsom has done a good or excellent job handling the pandemic, while 19% called his response fair and 28% called his response poor or very poor. The remainder had no opinion. For polling interpretation purposes, “fair” is seen as people in the “middle ground,” DiCamillo said.

“I think a lot of that is attributable to just high visibility that he’s had in the state since the onset of the coronavirus,” DiCamillo said.

The high visibility of the state’s homelessness crisis, and the continuing rise of housing costs in the state, likely made an impact on the dim view Californians have of Newsom’s response to those issues.

More than half of likely voters — 55% — said Newsom had done a poor or very poor job handing homelessness in the state, compared to 11% who said he did a good or excellent job and 22% who said he did a fair job. When asked about Newsom’s handing of housing costs, 46% said he did a poor or very poor job, while 12% said he did a good or excellent job and 25% said he did a fair job.

On the campaign trail, then-Lt. Gov Newsom called for the construction of 3.5 million new homes by 2025, which would require homebuilding at a rate never seen since the construction industry began keeping statistics in the 1950s. Carol Galante, director of UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, said Newsom’s goal may have been ambitious, but she praised his efforts to address homelessness and housing affordability. She said the two are inextricably linked, and have not been adequately addressed for years.


“Everybody wants the problem solved but no one wants to do the things to solve it, on all levels,” Galante said.

The Berkeley poll sampled opinions on Newsom’s work in 13 categories, offering a more comprehensive view of what voters think of the governor almost two years in.

Of the other major issues facing the state, Newsom received positive marks on healthcare, education, race relations and on climate change. The poll was conducted before Newsom’s announcement last week to phase out sales of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035 and his call for a fracking ban.

The poll was conducted from Sept. 9-15 among 7,198 registered voters in the state and has a sampling error of approximately plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Newsom received negative marks on his response to wildfires, on taxes and the state budget deficit, and crime and public safety. The findings showed voters were roughly evenly split on Newsom’s handling of immigration, jobs and the economy and ensuring the reliability of electricity.

GOP political consultant Tim Rosales said he isn’t surprised by the governor’s overall high marks, noting that voters tend to focus on what’s current and affecting their daily lives — and, for most part, that has been COVID-19. Newsom for months has held briefings on the coronavirus response several times a week, sending a signal to Californians that that that fight against the outbreak is a paramount concern, he said.

“The question is whether those [poll] numbers represent his high point as governor,” said Rosales, who ran the 2018 gubernatorial campaign of Republican John Cox, who lost to Newsom.

As the potential of a vaccine becomes more real, and as Californians adapt to life to a world with coronavirus, issues such as homelessness and housing affordability that were top of mind for voters before the pandemic will begin to “bubble up,” he said.

Newsom has come under blistering attack from the right since taking office. President Trump has accused Newsom of allowing homelessness to go unchecked and criticized him for closing restaurants and stores shortly after the coronavirus outbreak. Conservatives have also ripped Newsom for California’s rolling blackouts, which struck during the August heatwave, and his recent pledge to phase out the sale of gas-powered cars in 15 years.

The governor has faced three recall attempts since taking office and posts demanding #RecallGAvin2020 pepper social media platforms daily,

Two of those efforts failed after proponents did not collect enough petition signatures to place a recall on the ballot. A third recall attempt is underway — supporters must collect 1.49 million signatures from registered California voters by Nov. 17. According to a filing with the Secretary of State’s office earlier this month, they had collected slightly more than 55,000.

Newsom last week dismissed the recall efforts as byproducts of the nation’s bitter partisan divide, as well as evidence of his successes as a progressive governor.


“It’s part and parcel of the partisan political world we’re living in and the polarization of our politics, unfortunately,” he said in an interview with New York Times opinion writer Kara Swisher. “I think the old adage is: Dogs don’t bark at parked cars.”