Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks about lifting California’s coronavirus restrictions at Universal Studios in Universal City on June 15, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters


With about three-fourths of the votes counted, Californians are rejecting the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom by a 64% to 36% 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.”

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.

### is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.