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California recall: What exit polls tell us about the state’s LGBTQ voters

LGBTQ voters voted against recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom by a greater margin than the state's voters overall.
Image: Californians Vote In Gubernatorial Recall Election
Voters cast ballots in San Francisco City Hall in the recall election on Tuesday.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Like the state at large, an overwhelming majority of California's LGBTQ voters voted "no" to a Republican-led effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and remove him from office, according to an NBC News Exit Poll of early and Election Day voters.

The poll found that 7 percent of California recall voters identify as LGBTQ. Of those voters, 83 percent voted "no" to the recall and 17 percent voted "yes."

With about 70 percent of the projected vote counted, 63.9 percent of all Californians voted against recalling Newsom, and 36.1 percent voted in favor.

Newsom has long been seen as an LGBTQ ally. In February 2004, Newsom, then the mayor of San Francisco, defied federal law — and the Democratic party platform at the time — when he and other city officials issued a marriage license to lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. Over the next month, the city wed 4,000 LGBTQ couples, The Los Angeles Times reported in 2018.

Had Newsom been removed as governor, 77 percent of LGBTQ recall voters said they would be concerned or scared, compared to 57 percent of all recall voters. Twenty-one percent of LGBTQ voters said they would be excited or optimistic if he were removed, compared to 38 percent of all recall voters, according to NBC News’ Exit Poll.

Voters, had they ousted Newsom, would've chosen a replacement on Tuesday. The leading Republican candidate was conservative radio host Larry Elder, who said he would've reversed many of Newsom's efforts to combat the pandemic. Elder argued that receiving the coronavirus vaccine and wearing a mask were personal decisions that shouldn't be mandated, and he criticized Newsom's pandemic restrictions on businesses.

Elder also has made anti-transgender statements on Twitter, and he continued to use the wrong name and pronouns for Caitlyn Jenner after she came out as trans in 2015, The Sacramento Bee reported. Jenner was also on the ballot Tuesday as a Republican replacement for Newsom.

Elder did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In his victory speech Tuesday night in Sacramento, Newsom said California voters rejected those arguments and reaffirmed their support for coronavirus precautions.

“'No' is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” he said. “We said yes to science. We said to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic.”

LGBTQ voters, especially, appear to support Newsom's approach to the pandemic. NBC News' Exit Poll found that a higher percentage of LGBTQ recall voters think getting the coronavirus vaccine is a public health responsibility, at 82 percent, compared to 65 percent of all recall voters. Of LGBTQ voters, 17 percent believe getting the vaccine is a personal choice, compared to 32 percent of all recall voters.

Nearly half, or 48 percent of LGBTQ voters, think the policies Newsom put in place to deal with the pandemic have been about right, 35 percent don’t think they’ve been strict enough, and 17 percent think they’ve been too strict.

An overwhelming majority, 86 percent, support Newsom's statewide mandate requiring that students wear masks while in school, while 13 percent oppose it.

When it comes to the state of the pandemic in California, 40 percent of LGBTQ recall voters think the state's coronavirus situation is staying the same, 31 percent think it’s better and 28 percent think it’s worse.

A majority, 70 percent, said they think Newsom is in touch with the needs and concerns of people like them, and 30 percent said they don’t think he’s in touch. 

Summer polls showed that Newsom was in danger of being recalled until major Democratic Party leaders, including President Joe Biden, helped rouse Democratic voters.

Of LGBTQ recall voters, 79 percent voted for Biden in the 2020 presidential election, 9 percent voted for Trump, 7 percent did not vote and 5 percent voted for someone else. Sixty-four percent of LGBTQ voters said they approve of the way Biden is handling his job as president, and 29 percent disapprove.

The majority of LGBTQ recall voters are under 50 years old: Seventy-four percent are 18 to 44 years old, and 26 percent are 45 or older.

One of Democrats' central messages to voters was that a Republican governor would reverse the state's pandemic precautions, as well as other Democratic policies.

That message may have resonated with LGBTQ recall voters, 34 percent of whom said the coronavirus is the most important issue facing California right now, according to NBC News' Exit Poll.

But the state's housing and homelessness crisis — an issue Newsom has received criticism for — is also front of mind for voters: One-quarter of LGBTQ voters said homelessness was the most important issue, followed by wildfires (17 percent), the economy (15 percent) and crime (7 percent).

A higher percentage of LGBTQ voters, 74 percent, think the overall cost of living in their part of California is not manageable, compared to 58 percent of all recall voters who think so.

Nearly all LGBTQ voters, 93 percent, think that climate change is a serious problem, compared to 7 percent who don't think so. But voters are more split on the state's economy: Fifty percent said the condition of California's economy is excellent or good, and 48 percent think it’s not good or is poor. 

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