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2021 California Recall Election Results and Predictions

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2021 California Recall Election

This is the Electionarium home for the 2021 California recall election. Is the Golden State about to have a new governor?

Here California is again. Many out there in the vast bandwidth of cyberspace remember the last time California held a vote on recalling their governor. Why? It was only 18 years ago.

For just the fourth time in American history, a state will hold a gubernatorial recall election. This one is aimed directly at Gavin Newsom, a first-term Democrat who, if he wins, will most likely try to defend his seat again a little over a year from now. Much like it was in 2003, this recall election promises to be a wild ride, but will it have the same outcome?


California has a length canvassing period which will not end until late October 2021. Final results will not be known until then. As on September 17, the results were NO 63.7 % (6,070,494)YES 36.3% (3,457,005).

2021 California Recall Election Date

The 2021 California recall election is on Tuesday, September 14, 2021. Polls will be open from 7am until 8pm Pacific time, but postal ballots will be mailed to all registered voters.

About California Governor Recall Elections

Efforts to recall a governor in California are plentiful. For decades, petitions have circulated around the state, and who signed those depended largely on the party in power. At lower levels of California government, recall elections are even more numerous. Whether Democrat or Republican, that there was a recall petition drive is not at all surprising.

What is surprising is that this one succeeded in generating an election. The 2021 recall election will be just the second time in California’s history that a governor will face one. In both elections, it was a Democratic incumbent in blue California that had to fight to keep their job.

The state’s first gubernatorial recall election took place on October 7, 2003. Gov. Gray Davis (D), under fire due to an electricity crunch and budget woes, lost his seat. His replacement was a household name: Arnold Schwarzenegger (R); he would go on to win re-election in 2006, the last time a Republican has won a California statewide election to date.

In one historical side note, to date, the only prior American gubernatorial recall election to fail was against Scott Walker (R) in Wisconsin in 2012. The other two, Davis and North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier (R) in 1921, succeeded.

2021 California Recall Election: How Did We Get Here?

Gavin Newsom, previously the mayor of San Francisco and lieutenant governor, won the governorship in 2018. Some have seen him as a rising star in the Democratic Party with possible national ambitions. As one might expect, California’s more conservative voters are not fans, and there had been assorted attempts to remove him via recall since he took office. Noted earlier, such efforts are not uncommon regardless of the governor’s partisan affiliation.

Then Covid happened. Questions over Newsom’s strict handling of the pandemic helped push the petition effort into overdrive; the governor’s participation at a birthday party while the state was deep into social distancing restrictions fueled the flames. Due to the pandemic, petitioners also had an extra four months to gather signatures.

Recall organizers rode a wave of voter discontent and ended up collecting over 2 million signatures, most of which were valid, and more than enough to clear the required threshold. The recall election was scheduled for September 14.

How Does The California Recall Work?

Organizers of the recall petition needed to get valid voter signatures from a number equal to 12 percent the number of people that voted in the last gubernatorial election. 12,464,235 people voted in the 2018 poll, meaning that in order for a recall election to take place, they needed 1,495,708 valid signatures of the petition. In the end, over 1.7 million signatures were declared valid.

California voters will face two questions on the ballot. The first will be whether or not Gavin Newsom should be recalled from office. Should the “no” vote prevail, he will retain his office. If “yes” succeeds, Newsom will be removed as governor. The second question, applicable only if “yes” wins the first question, is on who replaces him. Whichever candidate receives the most votes in the contingent recall replacement election will become the new governor; there would be no runoff.

The recall replacement election has no primaries; a particular party can have numerous candidates running.

2021 California recall election ballot questions

2021 California Recall Candidates

There are 46 candidates on the recall replacement question. 135 ran in the 2003 recall which Schwarzenegger won, for purposes of comparison.

Among the most notable names are transgender celebrity and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner (R), former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer (R), conservative talk radio host Larry Elder (R), actor Patrick Kilpatrick (D), and YouTube influencer Kevin Paffrath (D).

Recall Election Prediction, September 10

2021 California Recall Election prediction 9-10-21

There is little polling evidence to suggest at this point that Gavin Newsom will be recalled. Opinion polls are generally running at about a 10-point margin against recalling the governor, perhaps a bit more. We have only seen a small handful of them that have indicated there is a chance the recall will succeed, and it has been over a month since any were in disagreement over the outcome.

Therefore, we moved this to “Likely No.” California is a very blue state, and while Newsom might not be beloved across the board, there are enough reliable Democratic voters in this state to make it look like he is. We would not call it “Safe No” because in an abnormal special election like this, despite all registered voters receiving ballots, you never know who will be more motivated to return theirs or throw it away. Still, every poll in the last month would have to not just be wrong, but very wrong, for Newsom to be recalled. We are not averse to taking chances on predictions, but this would be a fool’s bet.

Larry Elder will likely finish first in the replacement sweepstakes, but it will not matter.

August 9 Analysis

At this point, we believe Gavin Newsom will survive the recall election. We are less confident in this than we would have been in, say, June.

Unlike in 2003, there are no prominent Democratic politicians running in the replacement election. Democrats are going all-in trying to keep Newsom safe. However, the polls have tightened, and what looked like a decisive “no” vote on recalling Newsom is less clear. Some polls from July and August put the margin for keeping Newsom in the single-digits.

California is a blue state, making it quite the curiosity that their governor is in this position. Not of facing a recall election, but that there is a non-negligible chance he will lose it. Would we bet against Newsom and the Democrats in California? Not yet, but we acknowledge the shift in the numbers by classifying this race as “Lean No.”

Now, what happens if Newsom loses? Your guess is as good as anyone else’s. The replacement election is a free-for-all with no well-known international superstar sucking all of the air out of the room. Caitlyn Jenner is certainly well-known, but is not converting votes the way Arnold did in 2003, according to those same recent polls. Democrats have no big names, but the opposition Republican Party has a lot of candidates who could split the vote. Simply put, if the unthinkable happens and Newsom gets booted, California could end up with a no-name governor on a plurality of the vote.

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