Opinion: Momentum shifts in recall campaign


Daily Post Editor

The recall of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky will be one of the closer races on election night.

Momentum has shifted from one side to the other in the past couple of months.

The recall side was way ahead for a long time, but now that Persky and his supporters are speaking out, the margin is shrinking.

Can the No Recall side catch up by tomorrow’s election? I don’t know.

I’ve seen four polls on this race. When grouped together, they show how the momentum has shifted.

• The first poll was conducted nearly two years ago on June 20-22, 2016 by Sextant Strategies & Research for the Sacramento political publication Capitol Weekly. It found that 67% of respondents would vote to recall Persky.

The strongest support came from younger women who favored the recall 4-to-1. But that may not be a big factor because primaries like the one coming up tomorrow tend to attract voters 55 and older.

The Capitol Weekly poll found that support for the recall dropped to 59% when respondents were read a message that recited some of the talking points of the No campaign — that Persky has never been cited for misconduct, that he was following the recommendation of the Probation Department in sentencing Brock Turner, and that recalling a judge threatens judicial independence.

So there were signs back in 2016 that if voters heard both sides of the story, the vote would be close.

• Nearly two years later, on March 30 of this year, a poll by Survey USA for Channel 5 showed that the recall was still ahead with 56% in favor and 29% opposed, while 15% were undecided.

• On May 17, the Bay Area News Group released a survey it commissioned with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group that was done by FM3, which has done other polls for local governments including the city of Palo Alto. That poll showed the recall was ahead 46% to 33% with 21% undecided.

That would suggest the pro-recall side had lost 10 points since March, though this is a rough comparison because the two polls were done by different companies using different techniques.

Still, it makes sense that the recall was losing ground because in the preceding month, Persky and his defenders, retired Judge LaDoris Cordell and Santa Clara University law professor Ellen Kreitzberg, started making their case to the public. People were starting to hear both sides.

The FM3 poll also found that among voters over 50, the recall was virtually tied 42% in favor to 40% against. Remember, primaries attract older voters.

• The last poll came out May 22 and it showed the recall was still ahead 49% to 36%, with 15% undecided. The poll was from Channel 5 and its pollster, Survey USA. Between the two Channel 5 polls in late March and late May, the pro-recall side lost 7 percentage points.

Nonetheless, the last poll had the recall ahead by 13 points with two weeks before the election. It’s hard to close a 13-point gap two weeks before Election Day. One reason is early voting. Most people vote by mail and this time they got their ballots on May 9 or 10.

A lot of people fill out their ballot as soon as they get it in the mail. I think that’s a bad idea. If you truly want to make an informed decision, you should watch the campaign unfold. The claims of both sides get tested in a campaign, and often the truth emerges.

For instance, the recall side claimed that Persky’s decision to give a 6-month sentence to Brock Turner was part of a pattern in which he gave light sentences to white, privileged, male college athletes accused of violence against women.

On May 16, the Post printed a story that examined the five cases cited by the recall campaign as being part of that pattern. Turns out that only one of the defendants was white and only one played college sports. And the sentences in all but one case were the result of a plea bargain. Judges usually don’t block sentences arrived at through a plea bargain.

Other newspapers analyzed the five cases and came to the same conclusion — they didn’t prove a pattern of bias. This was an unforced error by the recall campaign. They had hundreds
of cases they could have cherry picked, and they chose five that didn’t fit their claim. Maybe they didn’t expect reporters to go to the courthouse and read the files to determine what really happened?

The debunking of the Persky bias myth could have been a turning point in this campaign — except for the folks who mailed in their ballots early.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].


  1. Mr. Price, I think you give the recall campaign too much credit – “unforced error” implies that they just picked bad representative cases. But the truth is that they did their best to spin non-cases because they had absolutely no evidence that he is biased. They were intentionally misleading voters to make their case, and since the facts didn’t support their cause, they misled in order to stir up outrage.

    LaDoris Cordell noted that over 2/3 of a group of Menlo High students stated they would oppose the recall after hearing arguments for both sides. It’s that obvious how weak the recall arguments are, if even kids can recognize the scam.


  2. Vote NO on the recall

    After hearing what seemed to be half-truths and misinformation from the recall campaign, I smelled a rat, so I read the Turner court transcripts, the Commission on Judicial Performance’s investigative report, and the Santa Clara County Bar Association’s review of Judge Persky’s performance on the bench. Both the CJP and the SSCBA found no evidence of bias or wrongdoing. I also read the Associated Press’ independent investigative report, and they too, found no evidence of bias.

    The more I learned about Judge Persky, the more I found that he is a fair and well-respected judge. I also learned that most of the cases the recall campaign claimed showed bias, were actually plea arrangements between the defense and the prosecution, and there was no evidence of bias. All of the cases with which Judge Persky was associated showed him to be fair, empathetic to both sides, and he never strayed from following the rule of law.

    It would be a sad day if the innocent and honorable Judge Persky were to be recalled. Judge Persky is one of the most respected and fair judges on the bench; his absence from the bench would be a great loss to the community.

  3. It would be a black eye for this community if Persky is recalled. What an embarrassment to remove a judge for such flimsy reasons.

  4. It’s amazing to me that the Recall people would think that nobody would look up these 5 cases. It just goes to prove that people will say anything in a campaign, no matter if it’s true or not. It’s like Dauber was taking lessons from Trump.

  5. You know the recallers are right, we shouldn’t have judges deciding how long people should spend in jail. It ought to be up to public opinion. Why not, instead of allowing a judge listen to recommendations from all sides, we do a Twitter poll to determine how long somebody should spend behind bars. Or we could put their sentencing hearing on TV and have people text their vote, like they do on American Idol. Yes, I’m with the recall mob on this one.

  6. The argument that Persky was simply following the Probation Officer’s advice is ridiculous. We don’t elect Probation Officers. We, as voters, have no way to hold Probation Officers accountable. We expect that judges will listen to their recommendations, but also those of the Prosecution, which in this case recommended six years. It’s as if Persky ignored the prosecution entirely and went with the shortest sentence possible. Yes, he needs to go. He exercised bad judgement.

  7. We’re watching the second phase of the #MeToo movement with the Persky recall. The first stage is the accusation. Sometimes the accusation is true, sometimes it’s made up. In Persky’s case, yes, he was too lenient when he sentenced Brock Turner to six months. But there’s no proof of any “pattern” or history of preferential treatment. With Persky, we’ve had phase one, the accusation. Now we’re in phase two, due process. It’s up to all of us to decide whether he keeps his job. We need to evaluate the evidence and make a fair decision that’s not colored by the hysteria that was present in this situation two years ago. We’ll see how fair residents are to Persky.

  8. Goodbye to the incompetent Persky. Take the overly lenient parole officer with you. If you don’t want to do the time, then don’t do the crime. It’s that simple.

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