The last time California faced a governor recall in 2003, voters removed Gray Davis, a Democrat, from office and replaced Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
Critics of Governor Gavin Newsom are expecting a similar result when election results are released Tuesday night.
But experts say the political landscape in California has changed substantially over the past 18 years, with a smaller share of Republicans and those along more rigid party lines less likely to be recalled.
According to state data, between 2003 and 2021, the fraction of Republican voters registered in California declined from 35 percent to 24 percent, while Californians registered as Democrats increased slightly from 44 percent to 46 percent.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, registered voters without party preference rose from 16 percent to 23 percent, and those voters tend to have Democratic leanings.
These shifts have resulted in a state where Democrats have outnumbered Republicans by almost two to one. This means that if everyone voted in this election and voted along party lines, it would be impossible to oust Newsom. (Recalls Mr. Newsom require approval from more than half the electorate.)
Even if overall electoral turnout reaches 60 percent, Mr Newsom’s proposed removal would be highly unlikely, because how many voters are Democrats, according to Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., a nonpartisan supplier of electoral data. .
It’s a different scenario than in 2003, when Republicans were not such a small part of the electorate and the election did not fall so clearly along party lines, said Rafael Sonnenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs. California State University, Los Angeles.
Back then, it was more common to hear Democrats opposing the Democratic governor, Sonnenshein said. And Mr. Schwarzenegger had cross-aisle appeal as a moderate Republican and a movie star.
“Arnold was a perfectly acceptable choice for many Dems,” Mr Sonnenshin said. “Today the party line is very tough.”
Political experts have been saying for weeks that the success of Mr Newsom’s retraction of the recall depends on boosting electoral turnout.
But, for Mr Davis, who struggled with Mr Schwarzenegger’s star power and his low-approval ratings, “in 2003 it was unclear whether it was about voting,” Sonnenshin said.
In fact, 61 percent of Californians voted in the 2003 recall election, far higher than would normally be expected for a special election. And Mr. Davis still lost.