LOS ANGELES – The polls in California (search) are schizophrenic.
That must mean the voters are too, right?
Schizophrenia must be catchy.
All kidding aside, the polls are volatile because the voters are volatile.
One, the race is brand new. Most Californians didn't sign a petition to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (search) from office and most never expected the question to qualify for the ballot. So millions of Californians are still getting used to the idea of the recall itself.
Two, voters are still learning about the candidates seeking to replace Davis and haven't settled on a favorite.
Three, the campaigns for all top-tier candidates have only just begun. Positions on issues are either in the early state of release or still being developed. Media campaigns have yet to begin in earnest. And there have been no high-profile debates.
"Voters have not settled down in this race and they aren't likely to settle down soon," said Democratic strategist Gail Kaufman.
"The best thing the media can do and certainly the campaigns can do is look at these polls for exactly what they are: a snapshot of a very unsettled group of voters who are taking this job seriously but have not landed hard on any candidate yet," said GOP strategist Kevin Spillane.
Here's an example of the polling volatility.
Two polls in the past two weeks put support for recalling Davis in the high 50s and opposition in the low 30s. The most recent poll, published by the Los Angeles Times, showed support for the recall at 50 percent and opposition at 45. Those same two earlier polls also showed the percentage of voters who didn't know which candidate they would support was in the low- to mid-30s. But the Times poll showed the percentage of voters who didn't know which candidate they would support had fallen to just nine percent.
How can that be?
The polls with higher support for recall, taken by The Field Group and the Public Policy Institute of California, selected respondents by relying on voter registration rolls. For likely voters, both polls relied upon recent voter history that proved the respondents voted regularly in recent elections.
The Los Angeles Times poll did not. The Times poll used random dialing, which means respondents were chosen at random from available phone numbers.
Republican and Democratic pollsters agree that 10 percent to 15 percent of respondents selected through random dialing give incorrect answers about whether they are registered voters and whether they are likely voters.
"Sometimes people forget and sometimes they lie," Democratic strategist Darry Sragow told Fox News. "Whenever you are polling, you are making assumptions about who is going to vote."
In other words, the Times poll assumes that voters who described themselves as registered voters actually are. Sometimes that's not true. The Times poll also assumes that voters who said they have a history of voting recently, actually do. But sometimes that's not true, either. In both ways, these assumptions can skew the data, Republican and Democratic strategists told Fox News.
"Is it 50-45 on the recall? No," Sragow said. "Is Cruz trouncing Schwarzenegger? No."
But there is one constant for Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) in all three polls.
All three have the international film star in the low 20s.
Political analysts believe Schwarzenegger has attracted some Republican voters and many more independents and anti-Davis Democrats. Among the independents and anti-Davis Democrats, the strategists believe, are young men attracted to Schwarzenegger's star power and "Terminator" image but who have no recent history of regular voting. The voters Schwarzenegger needs even more, analysts say, is the GOP base that votes regularly.
But the solid Republican base, GOP strategists say, appears to be divided among state Sen. Tom McClintock, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and Bill Simon, who dropped out on Saturday. In the Times poll, those three Republicans tallied a combined 25 percent.
"The Republicans better coalesce around a single candidate," said GOP strategist Alan Hoffenblum. "And with McClintock that's going to be really difficult. He's got nothing to lose."
McClintock, a social and economic conservative, polled 12 percent in the Times survey and his campaign believes he can draw near to Schwarzenegger once his message becomes as widely publicized as the actor's.
Hoffenblum says McClintock's presence poses a risk.
"He may make Arnold go farther to the right than he wants to," Hoffenblum said.
Schwarzenegger's ability to persuade McClintock to capitulate may depend on his willingness to endorse his agenda. McClintock has called for a 9.5 percent cut in state spending, which conflicts with Schwarzenegger's oft-stated commitment to protect education funding from cuts. The Schwarzenegger campaign has been unwilling to say if the pledge not to cut education covers K-12 and higher education or K-12 funding only.
Moving in this direction may well alienate anti-Davis Democrats and independents many analysts believe Schwarzenegger must persuade to have a chance of winning.