With six weeks to go before Recall Election day pollsters suggested Gavin Newsom was in danger of being voted out of office. Millions of campaign dollars were raised and many hours spent in defence of the governor. Yet in reality - as our analysis showed in the moment - Newsom's popularity in the Golden State was never in question.
On August 2 Gavin Newsom's positive net sentiment score sat at a highly respectable +29. An impressive TV and digital campaign saw Gavin Newsom rise to a high of +41 as key messages were successfully communicated, discussed and shared by the electorate online. Newsom's overall net sentiment ended +6 higher (+35) at the end of the contest, averaging +36 over the period.
Those seeking to recall the governor failed even to increase their overall level of support. Attacks against Newsom established a net -24 score and despite rising to a maximum -29 ended the contest back at -24 (net average -24). In other words the effort of 49 wannabe governors combined with the might of the RNC campaigning machine did very little to persuade the electorate they would be better served by a Republican.
Where did it go wrong for the challengers?
The final six weeks the Republican campaign was uncharacteristically poor. Having worked so hard to enable the ballot to take place one might have assumed they would be in full flow with a trademark attack on rivals - supported by a creative and sophisticated digital presence. Instead the campaign drifted with general criticisms of Newsom and a diluted attack on perceived policy failures.
The Republican leadership also seemed reluctant to set out an alternative vision, preferring to win power on what voters might be against rather than for. In addition there was only a half-hearted attempt to communicate a ‘pro GOP’ message and their ‘Vote Yes’ mantra was surprisingly tepid. Finally, much of the discussion took place in a campaign echo chamber with minimal contribution from everyday voters.
What worked for the incumbent?
By contrast Democrats appeared assured in their strategy. Terrified by Democratic voter complacency they strongly promoted Governor Newsom while simultaneously warning of the price of ballot failure – namely the Republican frontrunner, Larry Elder. They were also very effective at promoting their most basic message - ‘Vote No’.
In addition Newsom’s response to Covid-19 was roundly applauded by many or given the benefit of the doubt from voters sympathetic to the challenges faced since taking office. While it is fair to say much of the discussion was campaign driven a good proportion stemmed – unprompted - by the public keen to see Newsom retain power or shuddering at the prospect of a Republican replacement.
And what did the pollsters fail to see?........ sorry, we can't help you there.