Is it tolling for Gavin Newsom?

Governor Gavin Newsom speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. June 1, 2019. (photo: Gage Skidmore)

Out west in California, Gavin Newsom is fighting for his his political life.

Newsom’s recall race, as he likes to remind the whole California Democratic Party, and every Democrat in the nation, is about much more than just him. If Newsom loses, it will have implications for the entire party, the nation, even the world- at least, according to Gavin Newsom.

If his latest campaign appeal is any indication, Gavin Newsom is nervous: “Vote for me…or die,” has a nice ring to it, but seems a bit hyperbolic even by today’s standards.

Newsom is in trouble, but he is far from alone. In the east, other Democrats are facing very tough races.

In Virginia’s hotly-contended governor’s race, former governor Terry McAuliffe is neck and neck with Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin in a state Democrat Ralph Northam just carried easily a few short years ago.

Former darling of party progressives turned disgraced former-governor Andrew Cuomo may be gone, but he isn’t forgotten. It remains to be seen if his administration’s policy of concealing nursing home deaths for political purposes is going to keep haunting New York’s Democratic Party.

In nearby New Jersey, well-liked Governor Phil Murphy is running an uncomfortably close race against his own Republican challenger.

To the North, the once-popular progressive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has just experienced one of the biggest sudden drops in popularity ever recorded in modern history.

In just two weeks, Trudeau went from hoping to finally achieve the progressive majority which has thus far eluded him to hoping to hang on to his office. In only two more weeks, Canadians will head to the polls and the bellwether of America’s northern neighbor will toll.

For whom will the bell toll? For progressives who have pushed mask mandates, school closures and vaccine passports? Or their conservative counterparts who have fought them every step of the way?

Will it toll for incumbents of both parties? Is America in a “throw the bums out” kind of mood? A change in upper management usually makes plenty of people in the rank and file sigh with relief and schadenfreude.

There are plenty of things to be fed up about; COVID-19, inflation, high energy prices, high unemployment and rising crime, for a start.

Trudeau is unlikely to be facing backlash due to mistakes in Afghanistan, though Trudeau, unlike his conservative challenger, has said he will remain open to the possibility of formerly recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

His progressive counterparts in American aren’t likely to be as lucky.

Voters aren’t going to get a chance to express their displeasure at President Joe Biden next November, provided they have any, but they will be able to vote against Democrats who support him.

Democratic strategists have been noting nervously several high-profile resignations, essentially, in which popular incumbent Democrats have announced they do not intend to seek reelection. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Rep. Ron Kind, Rep. Cheri Bustos; they have all given different reasons for their unusual decision.

Washington insiders can’t help but wonder if these Democrats know or suspect the mid-terms aren’t likely to keep them in office.

Polling is something politicians once relied on to make decisions, including decisions about running for reelection. But polling in American has changed. There are two schools of thought about how and why that is.

One theory is that polling methods became obsolete right about the time the land-line went the way of the dinosaur. Pollsters just haven’t found a way to find a truly random way to sample the voting populace in the years since; but not for want of trying.

Polling has one major disadvantage built in and it is absolutely immutable. The results of any poll can only reflect the opinions of people willing to polled. Not everyone.

Some people don’t answer in polls, never have in their lives, wouldn’t even if asked to. Not everyone spends much time on the internet, and therefore would answer an internet survey.

But they both might still vote.

The other theory is that the purpose of polling has changed intentionally and it isn’t an accident polls are wrong so often these days. Polls used to be a way for politicians and policy-makers, journalists and news companies, to determine the public mood on any given topic.

Now, the purpose of polling- at least the purpose of the polling the public is allowed to see- isn’t to determine the public mood but to shape it.

“Look, everyone is supporting our candidate, and so should you,” is a great campaign strategy. Humans are very social creatures. “All your neighbors are doing it so why aren’t you,” is a manipulative device used since time out of mind, and with great success.

“Your candidate has no chance, so why bother voting?” might be another example of slick political messaging.

Which theory is right? The answer is probably, as the answer is usually; both and neither.

But there is one indisputable fact lurking in all the speculation about polling, why polling isn’t predicting like it once did, why polling isn’t reliable, and whether polls can be trusted.

There can be no question that the public is seeing only a fraction of all the polling which is taking place. Across mass media, focus group testing, beta testing, internal polling; not all of it is being released.

If vulnerable Democrats like Ron Kind or Keisha Lance Bottoms, or anypolitician, conducted an internal poll and the results didn’t reflect well on them or their policies, would it ever see the light of day?

Of course not.

Which is why, even though recent polling has given California progressives new heart, it may be way too early for Governor Gavin Newsom to break out the French Laundry champagne.

There are gaps in modern polling methods, through which blue-collar, working-class people are falling through by the thousands. The voters Gavin Newsom most needs to reach are the Hispanic-American and Latin-American California voters who helped him reach the exalted office of governor.

To what degree Newsom’s campaign messaging is reaching this vital demographic is unknown. He certainly has a massive campaign cash advantage over all the other candidates in the race- combined.

Pollsters, however may be under-sampling this group. Pollsters could also be- by hook or by crook- wrong. They often are and no one seems quite sure how to fix it, whether or not they are motivated to do so.

Will Gavin Newsom keep his office?

In less than two weeks, California, and Gavin Newsom, will have the answer.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)