With Election Day only 15 days away, count me unsure. No, I’m not one of those coveted undecided voters. Instead, I’m not sure whether the Bradley Effect is a ghost from the past that should be given a proper burial or whether it will rear its ugly head and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
As the theory goes, white voters lie to pollsters. When talking to a pollster on the telephone, they feel socially pressured to say they will vote for a black candidate. But in the privacy of the voting booth, there is no such constraint. Their hidden racism is front and center when the votes are counted.
During the recent Time Warner Summit: Politics 2008, there was a panel discussion on the power of polling that included some of the nation’s top pollsters. To a man (there were no women), they dismissed the notion that polls overstate support for Barack Obama.
Clifford Alexander Young, senior vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs, asked:
Well, in a political environment in which the Republican brand is as toxic as a mortgage-backed security, a white voter may not want to express support for McCain, particularly if the interviewer is African American.
The pollsters convinced me that Michelle Obama was right when she told CNN’s Larry King:
Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee. If there was going to be a Bradley effect, or it was going to be in play, Barack wouldn’t be the nominee.
We have to focus on the country as it is. That was several decades ago. And I that there’s been growth and movement. Now, there will be people who will never vote for Barack Obama. But, there will be people who will never vote for John McCain either. I think right now, people are so focused on what is the fate of our country, not just here domestically, but internationally. And I just believe that the issues are going to weigh in people’s hearts more so as they go into the voting booths this time around, than anything else.
But then Rep. John Murtha committed a political gaffe. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Murtha unwittingly told the truth about the story behind the polls that show Obama has a significant lead in Pennsylvania:
There’s no question Western Pennsylvania is a racist area. The older population is more hesitant. I think Obama is going to win, but I don’t think it’s going to be a runaway. I think he wins Pennsylvania.
During the panel discussion, William Schneider, CNN’s senior political analyst, cautioned:
When we say there’s no Bradley effect that is not to say there’s no racism. The Bradley effect is hidden racism. We believe the racism is right here in the polls. Factors predict a Democratic landslide but the polls aren’t showing a landslide. That’s the racism. The racism is there. That’s why the polls are close.
The late Tom Bradley played high school football. If the Bradley Effect is alive and kicking, Obama does not stand a ghost of a chance unless he runs up the score with a massive turnout of African American and young voters.