California: As we await the top of the hour and the start of the counting in the Golden State, it is probably helpful to put the forthcoming results in perspective. Especially given the fact that there are hordes of political reporters that are likely en route to making a bit of an absurd error in analysis (if what we’ve already seen and read is prologue).
This recall election, by all rights, should be close. Recalls are different beasts from partisan elections. The binary nature of a recall, absent clear partisan cues, tends to work to the disadvantage of the incumbent.
Look at the famous 2003 recall of Gray Davis, the most recent time that California Republicans wielded this weapon on a Democratic Governor. In the 2002 gubernatorial election which preceded the recall by a mere 11 months, Democrat Gray Davis won by a margin of 4.9%. But in the recall shortly thereafter, he lost the recall by a fraction over ten points. The overall marginal shift was 15.7%.
More recently, we saw a California state Senator, Josh Newman of Orange County, recalled in 2018. After having won his first term in 2016 in an upset by a narrow 0.8%, he lost the recall by 16.2%. There, the overall margin shift was 17.0%.
Based on these metrics, one would expect the recall to be far closer than recent polls suggest. Given that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) won his first term in 2018 by a final margin of 23.9%, one would expect Newsom to survive this recall if a similar shift occurs, but by a very narrow margin. Think 52-48 or 53-47. If the recall fails by much more than that, this should rightly be interpreted as a major defeat, and no small embarrassment, for the California GOP.