Opinion / Sacha Issenberg
It was a Californian, Richard Nixon, who first coined the term “silent majority” when describing a faction of largely white conservative voters who were quietly angry at the excesses of liberalism. It’s that same bloc that California right-wing activists expected to stir up last summer, when they launched a process to remove Democratic state governor Gavin Newsom (on the picture) at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. A coalition of small business owners, parents of school-aged children, and those who are just angry at the hypocrisy of the elites (Newsom was caught having dinner without a mask with a lobbyist at an opulent restaurant in the Napa County in defiance of its own public guidelines) would stand up to the chance to replace the state governor. At least that’s what the organizers of the recall hoped.
After Tuesday’s vote kept Newsom in power by a comfortable margin, it’s clear those forces don’t outstrip strong opposition. While mail-in ballots are still being counted, as it stands, just over a third of Californians have chosen to recall Newsom halfway through his four-year term. In a campaign waged largely on how he handled the pandemic, voters took his side. A CNN exit poll found 65% of voters said the coronavirus was a “public health responsibility” rather than a “personal choice” and 70% supported a mask requirement in schools.
It turns out that those who wanted to impose aggressive public health measures to deal with the virus – but who were conditioned by media coverage to fear the reactions of anti-masks and vaccine skeptics – didn’t have to. to worry. And the message seems to be spreading beyond the country’s most populous state. Joe Biden last week demanded that the federal workforce be vaccinated and demanded that all private employers with more than 100 workers follow a jab or test regimen. Democrats running for governor in Virginia and New Jersey this fall are taking a similar line. The real silent majority in the pandemic era seem to be those who want reasonable precautions to fight disease.
Sasha Issenberg is a Monocle correspondent currently based in Los Angeles.