The Bradley Effect

October 3, 2008 at 4:30 pm 1 comment


     Perhaps you’ve heard about some of the recent hype over this “Bradley Effect”.  Or maybe you are just wondering why the governor’s race of 26 years ago could possibly affect a 2008 presidential race.

      The answer is simple.  Tom Bradley, an African-American, was running for governor, and polls showed him with a strong lead over his Republican opponent.  He lost.

      And analysts blame racism for the problem.  Evidently, some of the white people who said they would vote for him ultimately changed their minds, which cost him the election.  (It’s interesting to note that this happened in California, an incredibly liberal and supposedly “open-minded” state).  And this effect has happened repeatedly – the Virginia governor’s race of 1989, and senate races in 1990 and 1994. 

      Now, with Barack Obama making history as the first ever black candidate nominated for a major party, it’s clear race is going to play some part.  Some people will vote for him because he is black, and some will not for the same reason.  We can’t tell the numbers.  But the speculation about the “Bradley Effect” is because of something we can’t measure: lying to polls. 

      According to a Gallup poll, 88% of white voters said race would have no impact on their votes.  As a Washington Post blog reports, “While very few white voters are willing to acknowledge that race may play a central role in their decision-making this fall, the surveys show that a slightly larger percentage admit that not only will race be an issue in the presidential election but that it has the potential to lose voters for Obama.” 

      No one in their right mind, unless they are extremely prejudiced, is going to tell a strange pollster over the phone that they won’t vote for Obama because they are racist.  They just won’t.  We like to appear tolerant, whether or not we actually are.  So even though lots of polls say that race will have no major impact on the election, election day will be the test.  Whether or not he wins, the percentage of white votes he gets versus the percentage projected will be what tells us if the Bradley Effect is still a problem, or if it really has been outdated.


Entry filed under: Campaign 2008, Politics.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. pollguy  |  October 4, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    I don’t think we’ve moved past the “Bradley Effect”. If Obama is not running 10 points ahead in the polls, watch out.


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