In summary

While counties with high COVID-19 vaccination rates tended to vote no in the California recall and vice-versa, other political factors played a major role. In some Democratic counties, the no vote was even higher than the vaccination rate.

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In certified results released Oct. 22, Californians rejected the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom by a 61.9% to 38.1% margin. And the governor painted his victory as an affirmation of his strategy to double-down on his pandemic measures. 

“We said ‘yes’ to science, ‘yes’ to vaccines, we said ‘yes’ to ending this pandemic,” Newsom said on election night. In interviews since, he has argued that his win shows that Democrats across the nation “shouldn’t be timid in trying to protect people’s lives.”  

(Friday evening, the governor’s press office said that two of his four children had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Politico first reported. Newsom, first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and their two other kids have tested negative, the statement said. The two children, who are younger than 12 and not eligible to be vaccinated, have mild symptoms and will be quarantined.)

President Biden, who campaigned for Newsom the night before the election, is also putting the same spin on the California recall result, calling it “a resounding win for the approach that he and I share to beating the pandemic: strong vaccine requirements, strong steps to reopen schools safely, and strong plans to distribute real medicines.”

Indeed, exit polls showed that 81% of “no” voters said that COVID-19 was the most important issue facing California. Only 19% of “yes” voters did, and 91% of them also said that Newsom’s coronavirus policies were too strict. And 84% of “no” voters said getting vaccinated is more of a public health responsibility, while 84% of “yes” voters said it’s a personal choice. 

But while there is a clear correlation between vaccination rates and “no” votes in the county-by-county results, it isn’t quite that simple.    

As with most statewide races in California, the recall came down more to political affiliation. The exit polling also showed that 94% of Democrats voted to keep Newsom in office, while 89% of Republicans voted to remove him. Even before the recall, more rural, Republican areas tended to have lower vaccination rates.  

In some Republican counties, the percentage of “yes” votes for the recall is far higher so far than the percentage of people still unvaccinated. For example, in Lassen County, 84% of people voted “yes,” while the percentage of eligible people unvaccinated was 67%. 

And in some Democratic counties, the share of “no” votes is higher than the vaccination rate. One example was Santa Cruz County, where 80% voted “no,” compared to a 75% vaccination rate.

recall election

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Sameea Kamal is a reporter at CalMatters covering the state Capitol and California politics. She joined CalMatters in June 2021 from the Los Angeles Times, where she was a News Desk editor. Sameea was...