The much awaited gubernatorial debate between Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman is coming up Tuesday night, but beware of overly facile analysis following the production because voters this year are a prickly lot and it is very difficult--just five weeks away from election day--to figure out exactly what they want, or what they are likely to do.
The latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll makes my point for me. But for those who have not read it (and let's face it, who reads newspapers nowadays, right?) let me cite some of its more interesting results.
The headline, of course, was that Brown has taken the lead--albeit a narrow one--over Whitman: 49% to 44% with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 points.
But it is when the poll probes the depths of voter sentiment (at least of the so-called likely voters sampled) a picture of voter confusion and not clarity is what emerges.
For one thing, despite Whitman having spent a fortune of her own money on this campaign, and Brown supposedly benefiting from his name recognition gained from years of political office, the poll shows that neither candidate is well liked by large numbers of voters.
According to the poll, 45 percent of voters had a favorable impression of Brown while 45 percent did not. Whitman fared worse: 47 percent unfavorable to 37 percent favorable.
Complicating matters, the poll also shows that more Republicans may turn out to vote in California on election day than what is thought to be the norm for this heavily Democratic state. Why? Because the poll shows that Republicans are far more enthusiastic about the election than are Democrats.
That could be bad news for both Brown and, over on the Senate side, Barbara Boxer, who is squaring off against Republican Carly Fiorina.
I recently took part in a panel discussion about the upcoming mid-term elections. One fellow panelist said she thought that voters are angry. I countered that, yes, some are, indeed, angry, but that, perhaps more to the point, they are confused and plain scared about their future.
This volatile mix of emotions is what should make any snap-shot, sound-bite perfect instant analysis of the Brown-Whitman debate Tuesday night highly suspect to say the least. In politics, keep in mind, five weeks is an eternity.
Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-Hour News Cycle." He has covered politics and police in Los Angeles since 1995 and is a regular contributor of investigative reporting to KNX1070 Newsradio.