Newsom enjoys historic support in California. Will he use it?

in summary

Governor Gavin Newsom has won three gubernatorial elections with historic support. He would use his popularity to unite constituencies and improve some of California’s stubborn problems.

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The record is now clear and the numbers are staggering.

In 2018, Governor Gavin Newsom won 62% of the vote in the general election, the most Democratic governor in state history. In 2021, Newsom beat a recall attempt with the same percentage of voters choosing to keep him. While some votes remain untold, Newsom is poised to hit 59% or more this year — a resounding double-digit gain for a second term.

These are historical figures. Among Newsom’s most recent predecessors, only George Deukmejian earned 60% even once, scoring nearly 61% in his 1986 re-election bid after performing under 50% in 1982. Compare this to the governor at the time. Ronald Reagan, who gained 57% in 1966 before falling below 53% in 1970; Pat and Jerry Brown, who combined averaged 55% in six elections; Arnold Schwarzenegger, who never exceeded 56%; and Gray Davis and Pete Wilson, who hovered in the high 40s and 50s.

To find a governor whose electoral record rivals Newsom’s, you have to go back almost 80 years to 1946, a far less partisan era when Earl Warren won 91% of the vote in his re-election bid (as both a Republican and Republican candidate). of the Democratic Party). , and 64% in 1950.

To be Warren’s equal in catching votes – that’s fine political air. But skeptics will ignore Newsom’s success in a predictably superficial way.

The first objection is that Newsom benefits from the structural advantages of being a deep blue state. However, this alone cannot explain these large margins. In fact, Newsom has surprising support from non-Democrats, including 48% of California independents, according to an October poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. About 13% of California Republicans approve of Newsom’s past performance.

By comparison, the same poll found that President Joe Biden received a more modest approval rating of 44% of California independents and just 8% of Republicans, challenging the national narrative of Newsom as a partisan pugilist and Biden as an arbitrator. But it’s insightful in other ways too. It underscores Newsom’s support across the political spectrum, the secret ingredient to winning such high proportions of votes in a state whose registered voters are still largely non-Democrats.

The second objection is that Newsom only looks strong because his opponents are so weak. That too is wrong. Many conveniently forget that the 2021 recall showed real momentum until Newsom overcame it in the latter stages of the campaign. It also overlooks the fact that challengers and outside groups spent hundreds of millions of dollars defeating Newsom in three gubernatorial contests.

The best theory for Newsom’s success is also the simplest: voters think he’s doing a good job. While his approach to issues such as housing and COVID-19 is controversial, his no-nonsense leadership style and ambitious goals find broad appeal.

None of this is meant to indicate that Newsom has time to enjoy a lap of honor. Homelessness is still bad and getting worse. The cost of living in California, poised to become the fourth largest economy in the world, is prohibitively high. Californians are feeling the brunt of climate change and increasingly view crime as a top concern.

In that sense, Newsom’s historic voting share is much more than political trivia or fodder for horseracing commentary. Rather, it should be the indispensable tool for uniting constituencies and solving some of California’s stubborn problems.

In other words, the question isn’t whether Newsom is historically popular with California voters — he is. The question is instead: how will he put that popularity to good use?

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