Confronting the Bradley Effect Step by Step

This article is cross posted at The Partisan Report.

With a little more than a week out from Election Day, polling and likely voters are going to reach new levels of scrutiny. A few Southern states have become full blown battlegrounds. Virginia, Missouri, North Carolina, and yes, even Georgia have become toss-ups. (I left out Florida intentionally. Though a Southern state and a Republican one, a considerable amount of support comes from anti-Castro Hispanics. Having said that, I see a lot of them as more likely to vote for the other ticket because of the historical significance of a minority winning the White House and the allure from that is greater than that of voting Republican. In other words, they may put aside their partisan scruples for this election.)

Because of the historical significance of this race as Senator Obama attempts to make history as America’s first black President and, with so many Southern states in play, many are questioning the role that race plays in the voting booth. The nation will be thoroughly educated on the Bradley Effect during the last days especially if the polls edge to within three or four per cent between Barack Obama and John McCain.

What is unfortunate from the start of this dicussion is the lack of credit given to our electorate and the progress our country has made. Barack Obama, according to polls, may be the first Democratic candidate to capture the most of white support since Jimmy Carter. A Gallup poll shows that Obama enjoys 44 percent support among whites. That’s more than Bill Clinton enjoyed when he received 43 per cent in ’96. Jimmy Carter enjoyed 47 per cent in his 1976 election. If Obama’s numbers hold steady or at least reigns in a little more than 40 per cent of the vote it is probably safe to say he would win the majority of the South and by our next President in convincing fashion.

In considering this, why are there so many articles written on the Bradley Effect? The answer is obvious in some respects and blurry in others. But what is certain is that it has effects – by accident or intentional – on the nation’s white voters’ psyche and undermines choice by planting doubt on their personal decisions. The effect that the stigma plays up around the Bradley Effect undermines free elections in a way that can be considered a type of voter/social engineering.

The theory in of it self is based off an unfounded and unproven premise that white voters are more willing to tell a pollster they plan to vote for a black candidate than they are by actually doing it. Supposedly by studying white voters like lab rats, many pundits claim that there is some genetic tendency in whites to vote against black candidates. So the story goes and where the theory gained notoriety was from their case study in California’s 1982 governor’s race.

The Black Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley (D), lost to George Deukmeijan (R), a white candidate, after leading in most likely voter opinion polls. The problem with this, of course, is that Deukmejian steadily closed the gap with Bradley for an entire month. Here are the Terrance and Associates tracking polls showing the race tightening. (V. Lance Tarrance, Jr, The Bradley Effect – Selective Memory)

Week of:

Oct.7th Oct. 14th Oct. 21st Oct. 28 Nov. 1

Bradley 49 45 46 45 45

Deukmejian 37 41 41 42 44

From looking at these polls it appears that a typical, highly competitive state race was underway. Yet, the San Francisco Chronicle and other progressive areas and Pundits in the state were already drumming up a Bradley victory.  In love with the fact that California would soon be able to claim it held the first elected black governor in America they forgot about the differences in voters in a very large state. Bradley’s leftist ideas and liberal policies would naturally not sit well with more conservative voter from both parties. The fact that voters decide by issues is hardly a phenomenon.

Quoting from the same article Tarrance states,

Yet, Bradley's win was projected by the most prominent public pollster in the state, Mervin Field, who boasted on Election Day that Tom Bradley would defeat George Deukmejian, "making the Los Angeles mayor the first elected black governor in American history" (UPI 11-3-82). The reason for Field's enthusiasm was that his last weekend polling showed a 7-point margin for Bradley, but this was totally at variance from the Tarrance and Associates internal tracking results. Field's own exit polls, on Election Day itself, where voters were questioned after they left the polling places, also predicted a Bradley win. This caused the San Francisco Chronicle, ignoring the closeness of the election and mixed polling results, to print 170,000 copies of its early morning Wednesday edition under the headline "Bradley Win Projected." 
Also at variance with the Mervin Field exit polls were the NBC and the CBS networks, using both exit polls and actual returns from key precincts, when they declared George Deukmejian the winner and not Tom Bradley the winner. In an AP report, a KNBC newscaster told viewers on Election Night "...half of the polls are wrong and I don't know who's right." The only thing we know for sure is the election was too close to call, and some of the Election Day projections were right and others (notably Mervin Fields' projections) were wrong and, unfortunately, most of this explanation because of selective memory has not been carried forward to this day.

The polls were clear that more people began to make their choice during the last week of the election. Those who were in love with the fact of a Bradley victory dismissed a lot of information that would have been helpful. Instead, they relied on weekend polling, some exit polling and a lot of unsupported predictions that manufactured the idea of dubious behavior by white voters.

Instead of considering faults and mistakes these pundits blamed race as the factor in Bradley’s loss. Of course no data was presented just accusations.

The most telling piece of evidence that debunks the Bradley Effect theory is the fact that absentee votes were so overwhelmingly for Deukmejian that it gave him the victory despite that Bradley won the election day turnout. This piece of information alone should do enough to debunk this manufactured theory. Of course the weekend polls were wrong, of course the outcome differed from opinion and exit polls. It wasn’t a well orchestrated coup by white voters against a black candidate. It was simply that many people already voted before the weekend polling, and weren’t present for exit polling to answer questions.

This was a huge variable left out of the equation and instead facing facts and admitting to flawed polling and careless predictions they blamed race as the guiding factor. In the process it has created an ugly cloud that hangs over our democracy. It’s an ugly, biased and insulting lie that can be used to cow down and greatly influence voters in what is supposed to be free elections. 

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