Yesterday, I questioned early polling in California.
Now CNN, USA Today, and Gallup have combined forces to add to the confusion. Their latest poll asks voters if “there is a good chance they could vote for….” No wonder the poll carries this disclaimer: “Because of the nature of the unprecedented recall election, the poll does not project a winner or predict how people might vote.”
How could it? The number of candidates for governor could be 180! They will be rotated in 80 different ways, but never in alphabetical order. Moreover, the minor candidates, together, could affect a close race.
Also, this new poll includes all registered voters. This is unusual, given a special election’s typical low turnout. But no one has a reliable voter-turnout model.
Indeed, this is not just any special election. Arnold Schwarzenegger has changed the rules. The massive media coverage could make high turnout a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What, then, happens to voting by mail? In local special and recall elections, absentee votes dominate. This time, their nonetheless significant impact would be less.
The task for Republicans is easy, for Democrats, harder. A (generic) Republican vote by mail campaign would yield voters who, nearly all, support the recall. A (generic) Democrat vote by mail would provide a mixed bag.
No wonder Democrats must circle the wagons. They hope to radicalize nonwhite voters to oppose Ward Connerly’s bold Racial Privacy Initiative (RPI). It would effectively prohibit the state from gathering most race data. The Democrats need to scare and motivate nonwhites, then slate them against RPI and against the recall.
Not so fast, though. Many so-called “minorities” are not enthused about Davis. Also, they must patch up their differences. African-American constituencies despair of declining influence. Their enthusiasm for Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante is muted. But he is the “unity” Democrat with the confusing message. Vote against the recall, and vote for him.
Meanwhile, on a broader level, reliable data imply more than synergy. The recall and Schwarzenegger are, in the public mind, one and the same. Thus, for Davis to survive, he must terminate the Terminator. But that, for Davis, may not be sufficient.
The recall’s bare 5-to-4 majority? It’s suddenly a 2-to-1 landslide. Why? Nearly all media coverage is down on Davis. Voters are being told regularly why Davis is unpopular. Who wants to back a loser? Miraculously, the bad Davis numbers currently hold at all voter-turnout scenarios. It’s politically correct to oust him.
This election is Schwarzenegger’s to lose. Left to his own devices, he can. Here’s how he opened his campaign: “Everything has to be provided for the people.” But his proficient team wisely announced that Schwarzenegger voted for Proposition 187. That 1994 ballot measure limited government benefits for illegal immigrants. It was strongly supported by Republican voters.
But if Schwarzenegger blunders, the recall itself suffers. But what if the recall continues above 60 percent? Davis still goes.
How do the Democrats hold? Only if Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon, Tom McClintock, and Peter Ueberroth all run strong campaigns.
Then, Bustamante sneaks in.
— Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and pollster in California.