The Bradley Effect in this Election

As most of you know, the Bradley Effect is the supposed error that occurs in political polling when there is a black candidate on the ballot that inflates the polling results for that candidate. It is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley who was ahead in all the polls right up until election day in the 1982 election for Governor of California but wound up losing. To account for this error, the pollsters theorized that 6% of the people in the polling may have lied to the pollsters about supporting Bradley only because they did not want to be thought of as racists for voting against a black candidate.

This has been taken by many people to mean that this country still has racists who will vote against any black candidate and they constitute 6% of the electorate. That is not what the Bradley Effect is about. To be sure, there are such racists in this country but the vast majority of them have no compunctions about telling a pollster that they are voting for the other candidate. After all they do not have to give a reason in most cases. Even if they do give a reason, most racists will come right out and say that they cannot vote for a black candidate. The real reason for this effect is so-called white guilt. Many white people feel guilty about what has happened to our black citizens in our history and rightly feel that their treatment was reprehensible. This inclines many white people to actually vote for a black candidate as a sort of compensation.

But what about a white person who just prefers the other candidate or is strongly opposed to the political philosophy of the black candidate and could care less about the color of a candidate's skin? If such a person is subject to white guilt, he or she may be reluctant to tell a pollster that she is not supporting the black candidate. This is where the Bradley Effect comes in. Still 1982 was a long time ago and plenty of black candidates have gotten elected since then, so is this effect going to be a factor in this presidential election? It could be that white guilt is actually causing many voters to vote for Senator Obama when they might ordinarily support the Republican candidate. Gallup Polling estimates that this reverse Bradley Effect could be getting Senator Obama an extra 3% of the vote.

If this effect was spread evenly around the country, then it could be a factor favoring Senator Obama overall. I suspect that most of this effect is being felt in the blue states so it will not benefit Obama in the long run. It would make no difference in a solid red state either for the same reason. That leaves us with the battleground states as the only ones that really matter as usual. So is Obama going to be helped or hurt by the fact that he is a black candidate in those states? Most experts think it will be a wash and have no effect one way or another in electoral votes. I am not so sure about that. This election is so polarized and the Obama supporters including the media have gone way over the top in trashing everyone who does not support Senator Obama and in calling them racists.

A good case can be made that they have overplayed their hand and many people who would ordinarily vote Democrat may be showing their resentment at this treatment at the polls. This certainly includes a certain percentage of Hillary supporters who are outraged at the treatment she received from the Obama campaign. You can bet that these people are not answering calls from pollsters. Another unknown factor is the voters who no longer have a land line and only use their cell phones. They are not being polled so there is no way of knowing which way they are leaning or even whether their views are different from the land line subscribers.

There was an interesting article from a Catholic priest claiming that he was getting confessions from people about voting against Obama. There is a lot anecdotal evidence that McCain-Palin supporters feel intimidated about making their feelings known since they get hassled by in-your-face Obama supporters when they do. This resentment could lead to a very large Bradley Effect in the polls that otherwise would not be there. That would also mean that there will be a lot of stunned people in a couple of weeks.

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