Sunday, February 03, 2008

California Polls Widely Disagree With One Another

The essential worthlessness of political polls, especially in this volatile year, is clearly on display in California this morning, where three separate polls are in such wide disagreement with one another that they end up telling us little or nothing about how the primary vote will go on Tuesday.

On the Democratic side, the Field Poll shows Sen. Hillary Clinton leading Sen. Barack Obama, 36% to 34%, with a whopping 18% saying they haven't made up their minds. But a Reuters-CSpan poll shows Obama leading Clinton 45% to 41%, and a McClatchy-MSNBC poll shows Clinton leading Obama, 45% to 36%.

What, other than general incompetence, can explain such divergence? One explanation is that it probably reflects grossly different assumptions on the part of the various pollsters as to what the turnout will be, how many independents will turn out in the Democratic primary, as they are permitted to do, and the effect of early voting by mail, before what is perceived in many quarters to be an Obama surge, began to manifest itself.

(The electrifying appearance of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, to support Obama at a UCLA rally Sunday, could conceivably build independent votes for Obama, and change the prospects once again).

On the Republican side, the independent uncertainty does not exist, since independents are not permitted to vote in the Republican primary. But still, the polls don't agree. Field puts Sen. John McCain ahead of former Gov. Mitt Romney 32% to 24%, and McClatchy-MSNBC puts McCain ahead 40% to 31%, but Reuters-CSpan puts Romney ahead, 37% to 34%.

Throwing all these out as collectively unreliable, we discover also this morning that there may be tremendous problems with the California vote count. According to the state's elections chief, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, 20% of the vote may not be counted until long after the polls close, perhaps even days after.

This may severely cloud election night understanding of what the results are in the most important of the Super Tuesday primary states, which unquestionably is California.

The way it is outlined in a story by Cathleen Decker in the L.A. Times this morning, the first votes counted and released in California will be those cast by mail at least one week before election day, and checked against the signatures of voters at the time of registration. Then those votes cast that day at the polling places will be tabulated, and, only after that vote is counted, will the rest of the mail ballots (or mail ballots dropped at the polling places) be counted.

If indeed, there has been an Obama surge in the last week, the release of the early mail-ins may create a misleading impression that Clinton is far ahead, when, in fact, Obama has actually won. His victory would become evident only later, and perhaps much later (a situation reminiscent of 1960, when the results in the Nixon-Kennedy contest only became known weeks after the general election).

Another complicating factor is that exit polls taken on election day may not be accurate, because they will not include the mail-in votes, and those, as I noted, may reflect a different result.

The consequence of all this is that the television networks may be very reluctant to project a final result in California on election night. If, as might be expected, the vote result in other states voting the same day is mixed, the overall result of Super Tuesday, in which California is most anticipated, may not be known Tuesday night at all.

Other vicissitudes in California are that the apportionment of the delegates to the party conventions is extremely complicated, much of it done on a district-by-district basis, and the number of registered voters has increased over the last election by 700,000.

Delegate apportionment can seriously distort the voting result. In Nevada, with only 25 delegates on the Democratic side, for instance, Clinton won the Caucus vote 51% to 45%, but Obama seems to have won the most delegates, 13 to 12. It is quite conceivable in California that Obama could win the popular vote, but Clinton win an edge in delegates, even putting aside for the moment the unelected superdelegates.

In short, this election count may be even messier in California than normal, and normal is pretty bad.

One of the most significant pieces of Los Angeles Times reporting on the California race, incidentally, was the recent column by Patt Morrison on the Op Ed page questioning the fairness of mail-in voting procedures, under which so many votes are cast before the race has really crystalized, the newspapers have given their endorsements, the television ads have begun running and so forth. People who voted in this election even before the Iowa Caucuses may have changed their vote, if they could, since then.

Beyond the Morrison commentary, and the story this morning by Decker on the California election, I think Times coverage of the election on the news pages has been spotty. The Times failed to give much attention to the possibly significant campaigning out here Friday and Saturday by Sen. Edward Kennedy, a supporter of Obama, and it failed to use its new state political writer, Phil Willon, very wisely.

Willon, who should have been reporting the campaigning in key urban areas this weekend, only has a story this morning out of Kern County. It's true Kern will pick delegates like every other congressional district. But the fact is that perceptions of the election outcome may turn on the (slow) counting of the popular vote, more than the delegate apportionment. I think Willon should keep his eye more on the situation in the Southern California urban counties.

As usual, columnist Steve Lopez, has some of the best California political reporting in the paper on the discussions going on in a barber shop in a predominantly black area of South Los Angeles.
But the black vote will unquestionably go strongly for Obama. It would have been better for Times coverage to concentrate on what was happening in Latino and white areas on the Democratic side, and in the rockribbed Republican areas of Orange and San Diego counties on the Republican side, where McCain may be more heavily contested by Romney.

It fell to the New York Times to carry a front-page story on the Kennedy campaign in New Mexico and California. The story yesterday by Mark Leibovich contained juicy details of a Kennedy dinner at a fancy Beverly Hills dinner at which Leibovich was present, but no L.A. Times writer apparently was.


Yesterday's reporting of the latest suicide bombings in Baghdad marked a new twist in the ongoing war, and an apparent new low of depravity for evil Muslim fundamentalists. In this instance, they apparently used women with Down's syndrome, and very possibly no idea they were being set up for suicide missions, to carry the bombs that blew up themselves and killed scores of innocent children and others in two Baghdad toy markets.

I always wonder, when I read reports like that, how Democratic adherents of a precipitate American withdrawal from Iraq, can reconcile their position with morality when there is every likelihood they would be handling Iraq and other parts of the Middle East over to these low-life barbarians, some of the worst human beings in the history of the world.



Anonymous People Power Granny said...

I review the new movie UNCOUNTED on my blog at Readers can also vote in my poll on what they think of their voting machines.

2/09/2008 8:20 PM  

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