Inaccurate Poll Distorts California Recall Debate

October 10, 2021 Updated: October 11, 2021

Commentary

One of the themes I have advanced in my Epoch Times articles is the importance of retaining the recall process as it already is. As Gov. Hiram Johnson explained when he advanced his 1911 reforms, which the people of California approved: “I do not by any means believe the initiative, the referendum, and the recall are the panacea for all our political ills, yet they do give to the electorate the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves.”

The key word is “panacea.” The process isn’t supposed to give all 39 million Californians guest rooms at San Simeon. Just make the political system a little more sensible and honest. Hold the politicians accountable.

The latest assault on the process comes from a recent highly defective poll (pdf) by the UC San Diego Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research. Its Sept. 28 announcement read, “Survey Finds Bipartisan Support for Major Reform to California’s Recall Process.” But it did nothing of the kind.

For one thing, polls nowadays are highly inaccurate. Most people now do not have the old “land lines” with fixed addresses. People also install call blockers. My call blocker stopped a “Scam Likely” call just as I was writing this piece.

Moreover, the only way polls can be judged for accuracy is when an actual election occurs, so we have real numbers from local registrars of voters or the California Secretary of State. Otherwise, it’s just GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

The poll supposedly found: “The recall, and especially the replacement race, were not representative of the full electorate.” Wait a minute. Isn’t the “full electorate” those who vote? If you stay home, or don’t mail in the ballot, you’re effectively boycotting the election, and therefore not a part of the “electorate.”

And: “Respondents strongly favored increasing the signature threshold required to call a recall from 12 percent of the electorate to 20 percent, with 54% of registered voters supporting this idea versus 35% opposing it.” The sentence is badly written, mixing the two kinds of percentages. By “registered voters” they mean those responding to the question saying they were registered voters.

And 54 percent is just above a majority—on a poll, not an actual election. To change the California Constitution would require placing a measure on the ballot with a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature, or by the usual initiative process.

Yankelovich also first should have asked if the respondents even knew the current percentage of the electorate currently required for signatures. And they should have asked if the respondents knew a significant percentage more signatures were needed to take care of defective signatures and other problems.

The answers, of course, would have shown the electorate is uniformed about such matters. Not that they need to be. Most people are involved leading their lives—working, taking kids to school, shopping, binge-watching TV series, etc.—to worry about the details of recalls.

And given the previous statewide recall was 18 years ago, and the next one likely will be 58 years from now, even under the current system there’s no reason to bother them about this. If the threshold for getting signatures was increased from 12 percent of the electorate to 20 percent, it would be so high there never again would be a recall. Hiram Johnson’s reform effectively would be rescinded.

The “poll” also did not ask about how the recall process, even when not actually activated by the acquisition of sufficient signatures, still acts as a check on the politicians. They know if they get too far out of line, they could face a recall, even get booted from office.

Reasons for a Recall

The Yankelovich survey also found 66 percent of respondents would “support a constitutional amendment specifying the reasons—such as concerns about corruption or criminal acts—that would be required to justify any recall.” But who would decide what were sufficient “reasons”? The Secretary of State? A new bureaucracy?

And it’s not hard to come up with “concerns about corruption or criminal acts” for any politician, even good ones who are uncorruptible.

Have the Yankelovich surveyors ever read opposition campaign documents? Or how about history books? The Jefferson vs. Adams match in 1800 was one of the most vicious ever, pitting the sitting president and vice president against one another, the accusations flying like locusts in Kansas. Although later in life the two 1776 revolutionaries again became friends.

Hiram Johnson was right back in 1911. His reforms don’t need to be reformed. Although almost everything else in California politics does.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary to California State Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at johnseiler.substack.com