POLLING PERILS

John Fund, who not long ago told us not to get too carried away with polls showing Arnold Schwarzenegger way ahead of his competitiors, now tells us that the latest polls showing him way behind are also misleading.

He reiterates his view that the race is Bustamonte’s to lose, given that California is a Democratic state, that there are multiple Republican candidates versus a single Democrat, and because Schwarzenegger’s liberal social views alienate part of the Republican base. Still, the latest poll has some quirks:

The Los Angeles Times starts its interviews by asking if the person is a registered voter and then asks a series of questions aimed at establishing whether the person is likely to vote. But turnout in a recall election is highly volatile and as former Clinton strategist James Carville has written, “Many pollsters say their surveys are based on nothing but likely voters, when in fact they’re including hundreds of people who won’t get anywhere near a voting booth.” A survey may also miss reluctant voters who will be drawn to the polls by someone’s celebrity status (Schwarzenegger) or ethnicity (Bustamante). The Times also called people from a random list of phone numbers–the pollsters have no way of knowing if some people answered inaccurately. The state’s other two major polls–the Field Poll and the Public Policy Institute of California–conducted their surveys off of a list of proven registered voters, a more accurate method.

The Los Angeles Times poll also was taken over a six-day period. The first four days of the survey Mr. Schwarzenegger was being relentlessly attacked for hiding from voters. On Wednesday of last week he emerged to hold a successful news conference and start his TV ad campaign. Susan Pinkus, director of the Los Angeles Times poll, told me she noticed a clear uptick in Schwarzenegger’s numbers in the days following that conference, although she doesn’t have any hard numbers to demonstrate that trend.

Arnold Steinberg, a GOP pollster who was the chief strategist for Richard Riordan in his 1993 race for mayor of Los Angeles, says the ranking of the candidates in the poll–Bustamante, Schwarzenegger, and McClintock–is correct but that the Bustamante lead is exaggerated.

Mr. Steinberg worries that the poll is taking on a life of its own. “The media coverage of the survey results are shaping the entire tone of the campaign for now,” he told me. “McClintock will now get a lot more media coverage. Bustamante will get a lot more media scrutiny.”

Fund also believes recall foes should not take much comfort from Davis’ relatively good showing in this poll, which is an outlyer:

The problem is that other polls still show the recall ahead by double digit numbers, with supporters much more passionate and likely to turn out and vote. Democrats outside of the of Davis’s inner circle say, privately, they are unconvinced that the governor can persuade enough voters that he deserves to stay in office.

Gov. Davis is also fighting a tide of dedicated voters who want to see him tossed out. And the Times’s poll shows that it’s only the second part of the recall ballot that’s in flux. On who should replace Mr. Davis, 46% of the voters said they may yet change their minds. But as for whether Mr. Davis should be recalled, a full 95% of voters surveyed have solidified their position and a majority of them are in favor of ousting the governor. That does not bode well for Mr. Davis.

Indeed. As a general rule, people favoring the status quo are harder to turn out than people with a strong desire for change.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steven says:

    As I commented somewhere else, this poll struck me as curious from the beginning. It differs too much from the previous polls and either is a sign of volatility, or of some sort of methodological bias. Sounds like Fund thinks it is both.

  2. Paul says:

    You mean polls that swing 30 points in 5 days are bogus???

    Ya don’t say.

    Paul