The data shows Newsom increased his margins in counties where majorities voted for him in 2018. For instance, roughly two-thirds of voters (68%) in Contra Costa County voted for Newsom in 2018. That grew three percentage points to 71% voting to keep him in office in 2021. Similar shifts occurred in most of the Bay Area counties to varying degrees.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean more Bay Area voters support Newsom. While the governor faced criticism from both parties for his handling of the pandemic, for most Democrats, the recall may not have been a referendum on Newsom’s actions or policies. With mostly Republican candidates and no prominent Democratic opponent in the race, a vote for Newsom meant a vote for the Democratic Party — or against the Republican Party. Therefore, it’s possible that what appears to be growing support for Newsom is simply an increase in the number of Democrats in the Bay Area — a trend for the past 20 years.
Counties that had majorities opposing Newsom in 2018 were likely to further oppose him in 2021. For example, only 38% of the 437,000 voters in Kern County were against the recall. That’s 2.9 points fewer than the share that voted for Newsom in 2018. In neighboring Kings and Tulare counties, Newsom support decreased by 4.3 and 3.9 points, respectively.
Similar patterns emerge in some northern counties, though their populations are much lower. For instance, Lassen County, with about 16,000 registered voters, had the smallest share of voters against the recall at 16%, which is nearly seven points fewer than the share that voted for Newsom in 2018.
There are some exceptions though. Some red counties saw support for Newsom grow slightly. In northern Shasta County, though only 30% of voters cast “no” recall ballots, that’s up 1.5 points from Newsom’s 2018 vote share. Nearby Trinity County had a 1.6 point increase, while support in Placer County in the greater Sacramento area increased 1.4 points.
Few counties with majorities that supported Newsom in 2018 had sizable negative shifts. Imperial County, a historically blue county at the southern border of California between San Diego County and Arizona, had a 2.3 point decrease from 62% to 59%. While that shift is fairly small, it’s a similar shift to what happened in presidential elections; though Biden won the county in 2020, his margin narrowed by 17 points compared with Hilary Clinton’s share of the vote in 2016, the largest swing of any California county. Several economic and health factors may have caused these swings. The county was hit hard by the pandemic — it has the highest COVID-19 death rate in the state — and unemployment remains high, at 19%, in the largely agricultural county.
Despite shifting support across counties, the overall state share remained the same from 2018 to 2021 — 62% of Californians voted for Newsom, and the same percentage voted against his recall in 2021. A slightly higher percentage of Californians voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election (64%).