Coronavirus

California Counties With High Covid Vaccination Rates Helped Newsom Cruise to Victory in the Recall Election

Stephen Lam | San Francisco Chronicle | Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images
  • A CNBC analysis shows a strong link between support for Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election and counties with high Covid vaccination rates in California.
  • People in counties with high vaccination rates overwhelmingly voted to keep him in office. Conversely, people in counties with lower vaccination rates voted to oust the governor. 
  • Many smaller, more rural California counties were also less likely to support Newsom and to get vaccinated. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has called his decisive victory in this week's recall election a win for vaccines and science. The data backs him up.

A CNBC analysis of county-level results — which are preliminary as mail-in ballots continue to be tallied — found a strong link between support for Newsom and counties with high Covid vaccination rates as of Election Day, Sept. 14.  

People in counties with high Covid vaccination rates overwhelmingly voted to keep him in office. Conversely, people in counties with lower vaccination rates voted to oust the governor. 

"'No' is not the only thing expressed tonight. I want to focus on what we said 'yes' to as a state," Newsom said late Tuesday in Sacramento, thanking his supporters. "We said 'yes' to science, we said 'yes' to vaccines, we said 'yes' to ending this pandemic." 

The analysis also reveals that people in many smaller California counties were less likely to support Newsom and get vaccinated. 

Of the 23 counties with fewer than 100,000 residents, 17, or about three-quarters, voted "yes" on the recall. Meanwhile, only 10 of the 35 counties with more than 100,000 residents voted in favor of the recall. 

Those small counties were also more likely to have lower vaccination rates. Eighteen of the 23 reported less than 50% of residents were fully vaccinated as of Election Day, according to a CNBC analysis of California Department of Public Health data.

Lassen County, for example, has an estimated population of about 30,600 as of 2019 and a current vaccination rate of nearly 22%. Roughly 84% of its voters voted "yes" on the recall.

Similarly, Modoc County has an estimated population of 8,800 as of 2019 and a current vaccination rate of 36.3%. Seventy-eight percent of its voters also favored the recall.

On the other end of the spectrum, Los Angeles County has an estimated population of over 10 million as of 2019 and a vaccination rate of 59.5%. Its voters strongly supported Newsom, with 70.8% voting "no" on the recall. 

The majority of counties that are classified as rural or mostly rural were also less likely to support Newsom and get vaccinated, according to the Census Bureau's latest rural area data, from 2010. The Census Bureau defines rural as any population, housing or territory not within an urban area or areas with 50,000 or more residents.

Ten out of the 11 counties classified as rural or mostly rural in California voted "yes" on the recall. This includes Amador County, Calaveras County, Lassen County, Mariposa County, Modoc County, Plumas County, Sierra County, Siskiyou County, Tehama County and Trinity County, according to data from the California secretary of state.

As of Election Day, all 10 of those counties reported vaccination rates below 50%, according to CNBC's analysis.

President Joe Biden, who campaigned alongside Newsom on the eve of Election Day, echoed the governor's sentiment about his victory.

"This vote is 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 — not fake treatments — to help those who get sick," Biden said in a statement Wednesday.

While the preliminary results of the election suggest that the majority of Californians support the state's pandemic measures, Newsom's response to Covid was initially what put his political fate in jeopardy. 

Statewide mask mandates, stay-at-home orders and a maskless appearance by the governor at a high-end Napa Valley restaurant during the height of surging Covid cases helped the recall petition gain traction late last year, prompting nearly 1.5 million Californians to sign it. 

However, Newsom's handling of the pandemic in recent months, including his rollout of vaccines and mandates, became one of his strengths in the recall election.

The governor introduced Covid vaccine requirements for state employees and health-care workers in late July, which took effect on Aug. 5. He also implemented similar vaccine requirements for teachers and other school staff, a first-in-the-nation measure that took effect on Aug. 12. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom attends a news conference to launch a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination supersite in San Diego, California, February 8, 2021.
Sandy Huffaker | Pool | via Reuters
California Governor Gavin Newsom attends a news conference to launch a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination supersite in San Diego, California, February 8, 2021.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Newsom's campaign slammed conservative talk show host Larry Elder, the Republican frontrunner, for pledging to reverse such vaccine mandates and other pandemic measures. 

The governor's vigorous campaigning also touted the state's high vaccination rates in recent months. As of Friday, 59.23% of the state's population is fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

A September survey released ahead of the recall election showed that more than 3 in 4 Californians think the state government is doing an "excellent or good job" at distributing Covid vaccines. And roughly 6 of 10 said they approve of the way Newsom has responded to the pandemic overall, according to the survey, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. 

"While a small group of craven, venal con-artists in the Republican party try to get attention by undermining trust in science and public health, the vast majority of Americans haven't been fooled —they understand that vaccinations save lives" and they "support common sense vaccine mandates," said Los Angeles-based Democratic consultant Michael Soneff in an email.

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