Gavin Newsom Recall: What Are The Odds California Removes Governor?

Posted By Evan Scrimshaw on August 3, 2021 - Last Updated on August 9, 2021

Within the last week, the Gavin Newsom recall campaign has heated up, with a smattering of polls on Newsom being removed as California Governor shooting to their highest-ever levels. In the PredictIt market, Yes is 28 cents. That is the highest in the history of the market, amid weakening polling and trend lines that suggest that the Governor may be in trouble in the September 14th election.

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Gavin Newsom Recall Odds

To Be RecalledPredictit PriceEquivalent Odds
Yes$0.33+203
No$0.68-213

*odds as of August 9, 2021

How The California Recall Works

The recall campaign, modelled on the successful 2003 recall that led to the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, was launched in 2020 before being extended due to the pandemic.

After the campaign hit the requisite number of signatures, the process of formal recall was started, with Californians being given two votes. First, For or Against recalling the incumbent. Secondly, if For wins, who would you want to replace them.

This article will focus solely on the question of Newsom winning or not, because that is the question we have some ability to coherently answer.

The Case For Recall Winning

In 2003, the Recall vote passed substantially despite the state being a Democratic state with a Democratic Governor, and there was definite overperformance for the recall amongst Democrats. In ’03, LA County only voted against the recall by 2%, before that same county would vote for John Kerry the next year by 27.5%.

It is possible that a similar trend of anti-Newsom Democrats could see their way to voting to replace their incumbent, especially those outraged over the errors the Governor has made vis-à-vis his behavior during COVID. His appearance at a maskless dinner party at the French Laundry last year has been raised as an issue, and if there is a coherent message against him, “one rule for him and another for us” could be persuasive to some voters.

The other part of the pro-recall formula is low turnout being disproportionately Republican. The theory would go something to the effect that Democrats, indifferent towards Newsom, don’t turn out in the same numbers as angry, anti-Newsom Republicans do, and that they could gain substantial ground because Democrats don’t bother turning out for what is an oddly scheduled election eight days after Labor Day with nothing else on the ballot.

Given the highly Democratic nature of the state, it is highly unlikely the GOP could win this under normal circumstances, but (so the theory goes) they might be able to win under atypical circumstances, and a September 14th polling day could qualify.

The Gavin Newsom Recall Polling

The thing is, there is some merit to these Recall Gavin Newsom theories, if you believe some of the polling this week. There has been one poll showing a 3% lead for Newsom, but that poll found a comfortable, double digit lead for Newsom when they sampled all registered voters in the state.

What they found was that the voters who are likeliest to turn out to vote are anti-Newsom voters, shifting the comfortable lead in the broader state into a small lead in their projected electorate of the state. If that’s born out on the day, then the GOP strategy would be correct, and recall would stand a fighting chance.

Emerson College also shows a tight race, again consistent with the idea that the GOP are getting their voters out and Democrats aren’t.

Why Recall Gavin Newsom Campaign Will Lose

Gavin Newsom is the Democratic Governor of a state that Joe Biden won by nearly 30%. For as wild as the last six years of politics has been, the consistent lesson is that polls in non-swing states are generally too favorable to the party out of office.

In Tennessee in 2018 and Montana in 2020, Democrats thought they were in with real chances to win Senate seats, and the polls said so. In Tennessee, the polls pointed to a 5% GOP win and they won by 11% on the night. In Montana, the polls were in the Republicans +3 range on average, and the GOP won by 10%.

Even in Newsom’s first election in 2018, the polling average had him winning by a shade under 17% – he would win by a shade under 23%. The polling error is pretty consistently in the favor of the party who generally does well in the state, which in California is Democrats.

Throw in the fact that Newsom has yet to seriously campaign and that the average registered voter who isn’t currently intending to vote is more Democratic than the current voting pool, and these polls probably represent a high-water mark for support for recall. Add on top of that the onslaught of big money that would come in to save a Newsom campaign that was seriously in trouble with two weeks out, and Democrats remain sizable favorites in this race.

If this were a red state Governor being recalled, we would be rightly thinking that this hype around recall was just that – unjustified wishcasting from the same political party that thought it could flip South Carolina and Alaska and Texas in 2020. And they’d be right.

This recall could, in theory, pass, but it is still the very, very, very sizable underdog to do so.

There has been another poll out, showing a sharp, 10% lead For Recall, causing another run on the Newsom price and yet another round of panic around the campaign of the California Democrat, and yet that poll is not reflective of reality. This thread has all the reasons why it isn’t reliable (or even mathematically possible), but it also beggars belief, and yet the market is acting like his lead is slipping away. It isn’t.

We’ve seen these sorts of poll-based panics before, namely the South Carolina Senate race last year, where a bunch of liberals bought the underdog at a similar price because of good polls, allowing smart betters to get a near lock to win again at a substantial discount. I remember it well – last time, I was the one falling for the underdog. Not here.

Gavin Newsom will not be recalled, and there is only a 69 cent price on No because of blind optimism and sheer banality. Newsom may not be a 99% lock in some people’s eyes anymore, but he is still absolutely a much bigger favorite to win again than the market is currently showing.

Newsom will win, the recall will fail, and that price is not reflective of reality.

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