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irishjayhawk
10-13-2008, 11:24 PM
If The Bradley Effect is Gone, What Happened To It?

It was Tom Bradley's 1982 race for governor of California, in which he lost to George Deukmejian in spite of leading in the public polls, that gave the Bradley Effect its name. But now Lance Tarrance, the pollster for Bradley in that race, has an article up at RCP suggesting that the Bradley Effect was merely a case of bad polling -- and that his campaign's internals had shown a dead heat:

The hype surrounding the Bradley Effect has evolved to where some political pundits believe in 2008 that Obama must win in the national pre-election polls by 6-9 points before he can be assured a victory. Thatís absurd. There wonít be a 6-9 point Bradley Effect Ė- there canít be, since few national polls show a large enough amount of undecided voters and it's in the undecided column where racism supposedly hides.

The other reason I reject the Bradley Effect in 2008 is because there was not a Bradley Effect in the 1982 California Governorís race, either. Even though Tom Bradley had been slightly ahead in the polls in 1982, due to sampling error, it was statistically too close to call.
Tarrance's article is a fascinating read into the way that polls are spun and campaign narratives are spread. It is well worth your time to read the entire piece.

With that said, the evidence is pretty strong that the Bradley Effect in fact used to exist in the 1980s and probably through some point in the 1990s. In this Pew Research article you will find several examples of it, spanning the window from Harold Washington in 1983 to Carol Moseley Braun in 1992.

The evidence is perhaps equally strong, however, that the Bradley Effect does not exist any longer. As can be seen in the Hopkins paper for Harvard University that I have referenced many times, at some point during the mid 1990s the Bradley Effect seems to be disappeared.

(A brief aside: This is not to suggest that there was no relationship between race an errors in polling during the Democratic primaries. There is clear evidence that Barack Obama overperformed his polls in states with a large number of African-American voters, a.k.a a Reverse Bradley Effect. There is not any statistically compelling evidence however that Obama routinely underperformed his polls in states with a large number of white voters).

If the Bradley Effect has disappeared or at least dissipated, it is worth thinking about why. I can think of several plausible answers.

1. As Hopkins suggests, racial hot-button issues like crime, welfare and affirmative action are largely off the table today.

2. It may be generational. Expressions of racism are strongly correlated with age, and is much more common among pre-Boomer adults. However, a smaller and smaller fraction of the electorate each year came of age in the segregation era. The Pew study that I linked to above reports that 92 percent of Amerians are now comfortable voting for an African-American for President. In 1982, when Bradley's race occurred, that number was more like 75 percent. (Although the Bradley Effect isn't about racism per se -- it is about people misleading pollsters because of social desirability bias -- racism is nevertheless one of its prerequisites).

3. Racism also has a strong inverse correlation with education, and the country is much more educated than it used to be. In 1980, 55 percent of the electorate had attended at least some college. By 2004, that number had increased to 74 percent. Most colleges are racially diverse, at least to a degree, and so the experience of interacting with African-American students as friends and classmates may be a significant deterrent to racism.

4. There may be some relationship to the revival of the religious right in the 1990s. For members of the religious right, there are now ample and automatic reasons to vote against any liberal candidate, a.k.a. their positions on issues like abortion. In addition, the religious right has made voting along cultural grounds (as opposed to policy grounds) more socially acceptable in general. So long as the voter believes he or she can articulate a "valid" reason for voting against an African-American candidate, there is little reason to deceive a pollster about one's intention.

5. Relatedly, there may also now be less overlap between those sorts of voters who are more likely to harbor racist sentiments and those who are more likely to vote for a Democrat. One test of this hypothesis would be to see whether black Republican candidates still suffer from a Bradley Effect, even if black Democrats largely do not.

6. Polling techniques may have improved. For instance, "pushing" leaners toward one or another candidate with an appropriate follow-up question may be a good way to tease out the preferences of voters who are shy to reveal that they won't support a black candidate.

7. People's attitudes toward polls may have changed. Our society has become more and more impersonal, and so when a pollster calls, the respondent may no longer regard the interviewer as a "neighbor" to whom he or she must seem socially desirable. This would be taken to the logical extreme by IVR polling technologies (a.k.a. "robopolls") in which there is no interaction with a human at all.

8. African-American candidates may have gotten smarter about how they market themselves to white voters.

That was from 538 (http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2008/10/if-bradley-effect-is-gone-what-happened.html). Here's the article he mentions:

The Bradley Effect - Selective Memory

By V. Lance Tarrance, Jr.
Now that polls indicate Senator Barack Obama is the favorite to win, some analysts predict a racially biased "Bradley Effect" could prevent Obama from winning a majority on November 4th. That is a pernicious canard and is unworthy of 21st century political narratives. I should know. I was there in 1982 at "ground zero" in California when I served George Deukmejian as his general election pollster and as a member of his strategy team when he defeated African-American Democratic California gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley, not once but twice, in 1982 and again in 1986.

Bradley Effect believers assume that there is an undetectable tendency in the behavior of some white voters who tell pollsters that they are "undecided" when in fact their true preference is to vote against the black candidate. This so-called effect suggests the power or advantage to alter an outcome - a pretty serious charge. This would render poll projections inaccurate (overstating both the number of undecided voters and the African-American candidate's margin over a white opponent) and create an unaccounted for different outcome. However, it is indeed a "theory in search of data."

The hype surrounding the Bradley Effect has evolved to where some political pundits believe in 2008 that Obama must win in the national pre-election polls by 6-9 points before he can be assured a victory. That's absurd. There won't be a 6-9 point Bradley Effect -- there can't be, since few national polls show a large enough amount of undecided voters and it's in the undecided column where racism supposedly hides.

The other reason I reject the Bradley Effect in 2008 is because there was not a Bradley Effect in the 1982 California Governor's race, either. Even though Tom Bradley had been slightly ahead in the polls in 1982, due to sampling error, it was statistically too close to call. For example, the daily Tarrance and Associates tracking polls for the Deukmejian campaign showed the following weekly summations (N=1000 each) during the month of October:


Week of:
Oct.7th Oct. 14th Oct. 21st Oct. 28 Nov. 1

Bradley 49 45 46 45 45

Deukmejian 37 41 41 42 44


It is obvious that this election was closing fast. 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 Fransisco 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 Field Poll inaugurated the speculation that led to the baseless Bradley Effect theory when, after the 1982 election, Field said "race was a factor in the Bradley loss" (AP 11-4-82). Mervin Field cited no data, but only speculated that white conservative voters of both parties were more undecided and that he may have over-represented minority voters in his polling. Thus, the Bradley Effect was born amidst some major polling errors and a confusing array of mixed predictions, hardly a firm foundation to construct a theory.

Even later analysis of the 1982 election revealed the weakness in the Bradley Effect theory as Bradley actually won on election day turnout, but lost the absentee vote so badly that Deukmejian pulled ahead to win. That Bradley won the vote on Election Day would hardly seem to suggest a hidden or last minute anti-black backlash--on the contrary, it suggests how easy it would have been for weekend polls and Election Day exit polls to get it wrong, since the decisive group of voters had largely already voted before the final weekend and never showed up at the polls to answer the questions of exit pollsters.

When Barack Obama lost the 2008 New Hampshire primary after all seven pre-election polls had Obama projected as the winner, the Bradley Effect got a second wind, blown along by a lot of misinformed press speculation asserting that our nation was still suffering from latent racism. A few weeks later, after much analysis of election demographics, and with a more thoughtful examination, it is clear that race was not the determinant that gave Hillary Clinton a surprising victory. In fact, it was a combination of an older brand of feminism, the open party system that encouraged independents to vote in the primary and some Obama campaign hubris that caused the result.

The New Hampshire polling debacle was also eerily familiar to those of us who witnessed first-hand the 1982 California election day errors. A lesson learned from 1982 campaign, but not remembered in 2008, was what a San Francisco Chronicle editor said the day after the 1982 election, "It seemed logical...to project a continued gain for Bradley." There was never a consensus of data to support this logic. The 2008 New Hampshire update on the so-called Bradley Effect also falls short of proving this false theory of latent racism. Instead, the New Hampshire debacle should be labeled for what it is, the worst polling disaster since "Dewey Beats Truman."

The Deukmejian campaign tracking polls did not confirm any Bradley Effect and to interject this type of speculation into the 2008 presidential election is not only folly, but insulting to the political maturity of our nation's voters. To allow this theory to continue to persist anymore than 25 years is to damage our democracy, no matter who wins.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/10/the_bradley_effect_selective_m.html