ARE YOU READY FOR SOME AMATEUR ANALYSIS?
A Monday night -- er, afternoon -- party... Uh, okay. Armed Prophet is no Hank Williams, Jr. Of course, neither am I a political science professor, but that can't keep me from poring over poll results. And I finally got a chance to look at all the numbers contained within the Los Angeles Times' poll (Click here for results in PDF). As a recall proponent, it's fair to say I was nonplussed about the numbers, and I still am -- but I'm a little bit less worried than I was before.
When I last mentioned the poll Friday afternoon, the full numbers weren't out yet, including the "don't waste it by breaking it on Friday" shocker, viz. Cruz Bustamante's 13-point lead over Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now they are, and I think the only reaction we can all agree on is: Damn.
Already of course, the poll is out of date already, and as Dan Weintraub wrote yesterday, "I'm not going to believe anything I read" from the polls. I shouldn't, and I don't. But what's the point of reading polls except to draw inferences from them? With that in mind allow me to point a few things that caught my attention.
Perhaps most surprisingly, it really does still seem that the Republicans are in a better position to retake the governor's mansion than the Bustamante-Schwarzenegger numbers would indicate.
What I mean is, when asked the "direction of the state" question, the choices being "right direction" or "wrong track," a not-exactly competitive 78% of respondents said "wrong track." A few questions later comes an interesting, though difficult to interpret question: "If the recall passes and a Republican is elected as the replacement governor, do you think California will head in a different direction than it is now going?" The responses "No change" and "Yes, a change for the worse" are almost at a statistical tie, with 24% and 20% each. But "Yes, will be a change for the better" sands way out in front at 45% -- that's more than the other two combined. Now that's something.
Among Democrats and Republicans, this breaks down predictably along party lines, though Republicans are substantially more united -- 74% of the GOP says "better," while only 39% of Democrats say "worse." Throw in independents, who overwhelmingly choose "better" at 52% and you have the elements -- but not the guarantee -- of a changing of parties in Sacramento.
But that depends on two things: 1) Gray Davis would still have to be recalled. And 2) The GOP doesn't split its vote.
Democrats definitely are starting to rally around Davis. The "right wing coup" has been ridiculed in this space for weeks, and I'm not going to retract my ridicule of the "coup" hyperbole, but I must say it's obvious that this race is getting more partisan. But even these numbers, the best for the Democrats so far, show the recall passing -- barely -- and the number of undecideds, should they all break for "No" on the recall, not being enough to overtake those voting "Yes." But that's too close to call, especially for a poll not worth believing.
As for the second point, its inarguable that Tom McClintock poses a problem for Schwarzenegger. (The near self-parodically anti-Arnold Angry Clam would have written that vice versa.) In this poll Arnold gets 22% and McClintock gets 12%. That puts McClintock closer to Arnold than Arnold is to Cruz. Ouch. Combined, they're still one point behind him. Ouch again.
But the above numbers show that a Republican can win this race, perhaps even handily. It would make sense that, in a few weeks' time, whichever candidate is behind, if one is behind by a wide margin, should drop out and throw their support to the other. Whom will that be? I just don't think it's going to be McClintock; he isn't well known enough, and when he is, his social views will turn off most Californians. One could argue that in an election supposedly about the economy, McClintock could get by. If it comes to that, I hope so. But with Democrats moving toward a Democrat they know little about, that seems unlikely. This poll may show Arnold with only 7% support among Democrats, but McClintock has only 4%.
The poll does look very bad for Schwarzenegger, but as Weintraub wrote on Saturday:
It's probably worth noting that the surveys for this poll coincided with the flap over Arnold's position on Prop. 13 and ended just as he was rolling out his first television ad and holding a well publicized meeting with his economic advisers.
Remember, one week ago today the unashamedly pro-Schwarzenegger Armed Prophet blurted out a frustrated rant titled "Schwarzenegger Deserves To Lose."
So if I as a libertarian-minded conservative was turned off by Arnold at that point, think of the die-hard California Democrats who at that point had no reason to vote for Arnold but his name. Surveys opened on the 16th, when Arnold was getting hammered for keeping out of sight, and ended on 8/21, the Thursday following his Wednesday re-emergence. Probably not enough time for much to change. Even if it had, the previous four or five days would drown it out, so to speak.
My final impression is that I do believe this poll, up to a point. With 801 "likely voters" surveyed and a +/- 3.5% margin of error, it's a pretty good poll. Plus, enough questions were asked to demonstrate that logical patterns hold up. So it's the next poll I want to see. And of course, the one after. And the one after. This poll is hardly the death knell for Schwarzenegger (or McClintock). If anything, it promises that Arnold won't be content to run a minimalistic celebrity-only campaign, and that he knows there is a real election to be fought for, not merely a popularity contest to be waited out.
But for the rest of us, there is only waiting. And I await the next poll.