Poll Analysis: The Recall Clock Is Ticking For Davis

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With Governor Davis’ unpopularity crossing all political party lines and political ideologies, it is not surprising that if the election were being held today, California voters would choose YES to recall the governor — 51% to 42% against the recall, according to a new Los Angeles Times Poll. However, recalling the governor is unpredictable and volatile, and depending on when the election is held, turnout and how campaign strategies are designed, the poll shows that there is some faint hope for Governor Davis to retain his job.

The perception that the state’s economy is dismal and that California is going off on the wrong track, is also fueling Davis’ unpopularity. Californians are angry about the record $38 billion shortfall in the budget and the economic woes of the state and that anger is directed at the governor. Davis gets very poor ratings for his handling his job overall, the state budget, the economy, energy and education. To add insult to injury, Californians also don’t think he has shown any leadership qualities.

Governor Davis and His Job Ratings

Davis’ job rating has not changed since the Times Poll asked the question in March. Two thirds of those surveyed in the current poll disapprove of the way the governor is handling his job, (including nearly half of all respondents who strongly disapprove) while more than a fifth approve (including only 5% who strongly approve). Just 11% had no opinion. There is not one demographic group giving Davis a positive job rating. The governor’s constituency base is no different than how most Californians feel about Davis’ job performance – majorities each of Democrats (54%), self-identifying liberals (52%), moderates (66%), Democratic women (56%), Democratic men (51%), men (70%), women (64%), blacks (55%) and Latinos (63%) give the governor a negative rating. A full 72% of white respondents disapprove of Davis handling his job.

In a comparable time for former Governor Pete Wilson when the economy was perceived as doing badly by most Californians, his negative job approval ratings were similar to Davis’ but the negatives did not cross over into his Republican base. In a Times Poll conducted in October 1992, Wilson’s job approval among all Californians were 28% vs. 61%. But a majority of Republicans (51%) approved of his job performance.

More respondents are disapproving of the governor handling the state budget than with his overall job performance – 74% disapprove, while 17% approve and 9% are undecided. Again, no subgroup is pleased with Davis on this issue nor for that matter on any issue the Times Poll tested. More than seven in 10 respondents give a negative rating on the governor’s handling the economy, while roughly a fifth approve; more than three out of five surveyed also give a poor job rating on Davis’ handling education, while more than a fifth approve; and three-fifths of Californians disapprove of the governor handling the energy situation in the state, while almost three in 10 approve.

The State Legislature and Boxer/Feinstein Job Ratings

The state Legislature does not fare any better than the governor. More than half of the public disapprove of the way the Legislature is handling its job, while about three in 10 approve. Their job performance in handling the state budget is perceived as dismal (similar to the governor’s poor ratings). Almost seven in 10 of respondents give a negative rating to the Legislature in its handling of the budget, while about one in seven approve.

Considering that Barbara Boxer has been a U.S. Senator for 10 years, a large group of Californians have no opinion about her. About a third of respondents say they don’t have an opinion about the senator, but 42% approve of the way she is doing her job and 26% disapprove. Among registered voters – 44% approve of her job performance, 30% disapprove and 26% are undecided. Unlike the governor, almost two thirds of Democrats give Boxer positive ratings, as do more than three out of five liberals. For Boxer, there is a small gender gap with 45% of women giving her job performance a positive rating and men splitting between a 39% positive rating and 32% a negative rating. A large plurality (48%) of independents also give her a positive rating, as do 45% of political moderates.

Boxer is seen as the more liberal than the other Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein. Nearly three quarters of liberal Democrats approve of her handling her job, while on the other end – two thirds of conservative Republicans disapprove.

Dianne Feinstein, however, is a more popular elected official in California. More than half of all respondents approve of the way Dianne Feinstein is handling her job as U.S. Senator, while less than a quarter disapprove and 25% have no opinion. Among registered voters, her rating goes up slightly to 57% approve vs. 25% disapprove and 18% undecided. She receives positive ratings not just from whom you would expect – Democrats (71%), liberals (69%), independents (61%), self-identifying moderates (55%), women (54%), blacks (67%), Latinos (44%) and whites (54%), but also from those you would not expect – conservatives (44%), men (52%), southern California, excluding Los Angeles county (42%) and northern California, excluding the Bay Area (56%). Republicans are not as disapproving of her (38% vs. 47%) as they are of her sister senator, Barbara Boxer (16% vs. 60%).


Almost two thirds of those surveyed believe California is seriously off on the wrong track, compared to about a quarter who say the state is going in the right direction. These results are quite similar to results found in a March Times Poll.

The public is well aware of the financial crisis that California is experiencing and their perceptions about the economy are gloomy. This feeling of gloom is projected into the future. One of the ways this is shown is by the budget shortfall issue replacing education as the most important problem facing the state. Besides the budget shortfall and education as the number one and two problems facing the state, unemployment and the economy are tied for third. Nineteen percent of African-Americans and 18% of Latinos mentioned unemployment, while just 8% of whites mention this problem. A third of whites mention the budget shortfall as the most important problem, as do 29% of blacks and 18% of Latinos; three out of 10 Latinos cite education as the most important problem, compared to 19% of blacks and 20% of whites.

In addition to the budget crisis and the state going off on the wrong track, nearly two thirds of those surveyed say the state’s economy is doing fairly badly (37%) and very badly (28%). And almost two out of five of these respondents blame Governor Davis for this problem. A fifth of all Californians blame the state Legislature and 16% blame President Bush and his economic policies. Even 35% of Democrats and 27% of liberals blame the governor for the state’s economic problems, but these two subgroups also blame President Bush and his economic policies for the state’s economic crisis (27% and 29% respectively). One more thing to add to the economic gloom expressed by many Californians is the worry of losing their job. A third of respondents who are now working are concerned about losing their jobs and that figure rises substantially to 42% among black workers, 41% among working Latinos and 40% of those respondents whose household income falls below $40,000.

For many, a prognosis for an economically healthy California does not look good. Just about a fifth of respondents expect the state’s economy to get worse over the next six months, while 29% think it will get better. However, nearly half believe the economy will remain the same. Unfortunately, 65% of these respondents think the economy is doing badly, thus expecting more of the same.

Nearly three out of 10 surveyed also expect the state’s unemployment rate to get worse over the next six months, while 23% think it will get better. Nearly half (46%) think the rate will probably remain the same.

In addition to the governor being blamed for the economic crisis in the state, Davis is also being blamed for the state going from a period of rapid budget growth to now facing a record budget shortfall. Nearly two out of five point their finger at Davis for the biggest shortfall to hit the state, followed by the Legislature at 12%. But as Davis said on NewsNight on CNN, “We have a tough problem in California because we require a two thirds vote to pass the Legislature which means we need both Republicans and Democrats to agree. When Governor Wilson had a problem ten years ago he split the problem in half and he had $7 billion worth of taxes and $7 billion worth of cuts, but now the Republicans don’t want to have any kind of taxes whatsoever, so we’re having a big fight out here...”

Yet when asked what should the state do to close the budget gap, the public is a lot more pragmatic and compromising than the legislators who represent them. More than two out of five respondents say the state should reduce spending, while the same share of the public say the state should do a combination of reducing spending and increasing taxes. Republicans in the state Legislature are refusing to pass the budget if there are any tax increases, such as a proposed half cent sales tax. But along with nearly half of Democrats, a third of Republicans want to do a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to help reduce the budget shortfall. The Democrats in the state Legislature are just as adamant about not wanting to make further cuts in government programs. But, 25% of liberal Democrats and 40% of moderate Democrats would consider reducing spending as a way to rein in the budget, while 47% of moderate Republicans and 60% of conservative Republicans would consider that as well. A third of Democrats and almost three-fifths of Republicans want to reduce spending. However, 22% of liberal Democrats (and 8% of moderate Democrats) would be willing to solely raise taxes to help pass the budget and reduce the shortfall, while their Republican counterparts will not raise taxes. Only 2% of conservative Republicans and 4% of moderate Republicans are willing to put taxes on the table.

To the credit of many Californians, 43% of residents in the golden state understand that both parties — the Democrats and Republicans — in the Legislature are the ones responsible for the budget impasse. The budget deadline was July 1 – that date has come and gone and many state government employees and programs are in danger of either not being paid, laid off or cut. And California bond ratings could be downgraded more than they already are cautions Steve Wesley, the State Controller.

Governor Davis and the Recall

Californians have finally awakened and are now paying attention to the recall effort to oust Governor Davis. The recall effort has been talked about on national news shows and on late night shows like Jay Leno. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been promoting his new Terminator 3 movie and then the questions move on to his running for governor if the recall effort succeeds. With this national exposure, 70% of voters say they are following at least somewhat closely the news about a petition drive to recall the governor. In March, the Times poll showed only about a third following the news on this issue. The recall effort has taken on a life of its own since Congressman Darrell Issa has contributed more than $1 million of his own money to get the almost 900,000 signatures needed to get the recall measure on the ballot. Before that, the recall effort was languishing. Voters don’t buy the argument that the Republicans are driving this recall effort to reverse the outcome of the gubernatorial election that they lost last November as Democrats are arguing. A majority of voters, though, say that the Republicans are pushing forward with the recall effort because they believe that the governor has mismanaged the state’s finances.

If the election were being held today, the recall measure would win the support of 51% of registered voters. Forty-two percent said they would vote NO not to recall Governor Davis and 7% are undecided or haven’t heard enough to form an opinion. Among those following the recall closely, support of the recall rises slightly to 54%, while 42% would vote against the recall. Among those not paying close attention, 44% of voters say they would vote YES to recall the governor and 40% would vote NO not to recall Davis. When voters were asked why they wanted to recall the governor, 35% mentioned that Davis mismanaged his office – an argument constantly being made by Republicans, followed by Davis is not a good governor (18%), his lack of leadership (15%) and the budget stalemate (13%).

Still, if there are enough signatures to force a recall election, the Republicans would like the recall to be held in a special election in the fall (probably November), where they feel more GOP’ers would come out to vote and there would be a much lower turnout favoring them. The Democrats, on the other hand, would like the recall election to be held in March on a regularly scheduled election day — the presidential primary. Since President Bush will be running virtually unopposed and there will be a Democratic presidential primary, the Democrats feel that more Democrats would be motivated to come out and vote and there would be a much higher turnout in their favor. That is why there is such maneuvering by both parties to get a special recall election more suitable to their constituencies. To recall or not to recall the governor will be decided by who comes out to vote. Turnout is everything! The poll shows that 71% of liberal Democrats and 53% of moderate Democrats would vote NO on the recall of Governor Davis if the election were held today. And on the other end of the political spectrum, 84% of conservative Republicans and 73% of moderate Republicans would vote YES to recall the governor.

The Democratic strategy for playing out the recall effort is to concentrate on the fact that it would be a financial waste in a time of economic crisis and to have Democrats pledge that they will not appear on the ballot. The latter strategy is somewhat risky, because if the recall wins, some one will be the new governor – and that some one will not be a Democrat.

The poll measured two arguments among voters who said they would vote yes to recall Davis. One, if the recall was on its own day costing the state and its taxpayers about $25 million, rather than on a day where an election was already scheduled. Although this argument is persuasive, once the recall measure is on the ballot, it probably doesn’t change the outcome of the vote. And two, if NO Democrats were on the ballot would that change your mind and you would not vote to recall Davis or would that not make any difference. The second one is not as potent as the first one costing taxpayers money.

Yet, they do change the outcome of the recall. For the first argument, about a fifth of those supporting the recall change their mind and that helps Davis and the recall effort loses. The second argument changes 8% of the recall supporters’ minds and that drops the yes to recall Davis vote to less than a majority.

There is some faint hope for Davis – even though all demographic groups disapprove of his job performance, among these groups who disapprove of Davis’ handling his job are sizeable blocs that are opposed to the recall. In addition, there are some demographic groups who are opposed to the recall and some that are divided over whether to recall Davis. Majorities of Democratic voters, liberals, blacks, voters with household incomes of more than $100,000, the more educated and those voters living in the Bay Area do not want to recall the governor, as well as a sizeable plurality of union members. The older voters (45 and over) who usually vote in most elections are divided over this issue, as are women 40 and over, voters living in Northern California and voters living in coastal counties and those voters whose household income is less than $20,000.

Those voting for the recall by some demographic groups:

• 81% of Republicans, 38% of independents and 33% of Democrats

• 72% of self-identified conservatives, 45% of moderates and 26% of liberals

• 84% of conservative Republicans, 73% of moderate Republicans, 40% of moderate Democrats and 26% of liberal Democrats

• 50% of women and 52% of men

• 55% of whites, 28% of blacks and 56% of Latinos

• 54% with a high school diploma or less, 61% with some college and 40% with a college degree or more

• 42% who are union members

• 56% who are 18-29 years old, 58% who are 30-44 years old, 47% who are 45-64 years old and 50% for those 65 and over

• 52% who live in Los Angeles county, 61% who live in rest of southern California, 32% who live in the Bay Area and 48% who live in rest of northern California

• 49% who live in the coastal counties and 56% who live in the inland counties

Those voting against the recall among some demographic groups:

• 60% of Democrats, 49% of Independents and 15% of Republicans

• 67% of self-identified liberals, 45% of moderates and 25% of conservatives

• 71% of liberal Democrats, 53% of moderate Democrats, 22% of moderate Republicans and 12% of conservative Republicans

• 66% of blacks, 40% of whites and 39% of Latinos

• 46% of men and 38% of women

• 53% of those with a college degree or more, 41% with a high school diploma or less and 31% who attended some college

• 48% who are 45-64 years of age, 48% who are 65 and over, 33% who are 30-44 years of age and 28% who are 18-29 years old

• 48% who are union members

• 57% who live in the Bay Area, 47% who live in rest of northern California, 39% who are in Los Angeles county and 33% who live in rest of southern California

• 43% who live in the coastal counties and 40% who live in the inland counties

Who to Vote for if There is a Recall

The Times Poll tested 11 people who are either being mentioned or who have already declared that they are running for governor if the recall election goes ahead. The recall ballot has two parts. The first part of the ballot is either yes or no to recall Governor Davis. The second part allows a vote for the governor’s replacement, regardless of whether the voter chose yes or no to recall the governor.

We tested each person individually – Treasurer Phil Angelides, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, Congressman Darrell Issa, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, state Senator Tom McClintock, former Mayor of LA Richard Riordan, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon — whether the voter would be inclined to vote or not inclined to vote for that person. (Although the Democrats said they would not put themselves on the ballot, the poll tested them anyway.) Most of the candidates were unknown to many voters. But, nearly half of the voters (46%) say they would be inclined to vote for Feinstein (37% not inclined to vote for her), while 53% of voters would not be inclined to vote for Schwarzenegger (26% would be inclined) and 52% would not be inclined to vote for Simon (22% would be inclined). Interestingly, Issa who has contributed more than a million dollars to help get signatures for the recall and move the effort along, is not known by 53% of the voters and another 5% are undecided – 11% would be inclined to vote for him, while 31% would not be inclined.

The poll then asked a horserace question of all the candidates. Now if the election were being held today and these were the candidates, for whom would you vote:

Dianne Feinstein (D) 25%

Richard Riordan (R) 11%

Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) 11%

Bill Simon (R) 9%

Tom McClintock (R) 6%

Cruz Bustamante (D) 6%

Darrell Issa (R) 3%

Bill Lockyer (D) 3%

Peter Camejo (Green) 2%

John Garamendi (D) 2%

Phil Angelides (D) 1%

Would not vote 4%

Don’t Know/Haven’t Heard 17%

A second question was then asked – if there weren’t any Democrats on the ballot and these were the candidates, for whom would you vote: (The no vote rose by 13 points among all voters)

RV Dems Inds Reps

Richard Riordan (R) 21% 23% 19% 19%

Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) 17% 14% 15% 23%

Bill Simon (R) 10% 3% 3% 25%

Peter Camejo (Green) 9% 8% 18% 2%

Tom McClintock (R) 6% 4% 3% 11%

Darrell Issa (R) 3% 1% 3% 6%

Someone else 1% 1% 1% –

Wouldn’t Vote 17% 30% 14% 3%

The California Constitution does not set a specific standard for what conduct warrants the recall of a governor. But almost nine in 10 voters believe that a governor should be recalled for criminal wrongdoing; 3 out of five also think unethical behavior is a good reason; and three-fifths think if the governor is doing a poor job governing the state, that is reason enough for a recall. Still, virtually all voters think that just because a governor is unpopular that is no reason to recall him or her. More than half of the voters think the state Constitution should have specific standards of conduct for recalling a governor, compared to 41% who likes the law as it stands now.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Poll contacted 1,412 California adults, including 1,127 registered voters, by telephone June 28–July 2. The margin of sampling error for registered voters and for the overall state sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. To allow for analysis, the main sample was supplemented to a total of 100 African American voters (margin of sampling error +/– 9 percentage points) and the samples were then weighted to their proportion in the state. Telephone numbers were selected from a list of all exchanges in California. Random-digit dialing techniques allowed both listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and registration figures from the secretary of state. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Asian Americans are part of the sample but there were not enough to break out as a separate subgroup.