‘Bradley Effect’ is a term specific to the U.S polling context. Polling in a race driven social context is a complicated issue that can be particularly problematic. We shall analyze the meaning and larger context of the phrase ‘Bradley effect’. Our analysis will also include the views denying the truth of ‘Bradley effect’ in the U.S polls.
Hunter Cutting and Makani N Themba explain the origin and context of the phrase in the following words:
In 1982, Tom Bradley, the African American Mayor of Los Angeles ran for governor of California and led in polls before election, but his white opponent won. Political analysts use the episode to name a fact of polling: “when Anglo-voters were asked by a pollster, they would indicate they were supporting Tom Bradley because they didn’t want to be perceived as bigots,” claims Sherry Bebitch Jaffe of the University of Southern California. Polling on racial issues can be inaccurate because some whites do not respond truthfully to polling questions that they perceive as having racial implications (p.61).
The issue has once again become a topic of hot debate in the current presidential election in America. Every one is asking today whether Obama too will become a victim of Bradley effect. Barack Obama, the Illinois senator, and presidential candidate is holding a slim lead. The issue here is whether he would be able to maintain the lead as evident now or will become a victim of the racial handicap? As of now there is no consensus on the issue.
According to a published letter/opinion in the Boston Globe datelined August 13, 2008, the time has come to retire ‘Bradley effect’. The article maintains that the reason Tom Bradley, the African American mayor of Los Angeles, who lost the election and couldn’t become governor, was not because the racist white voters lied to the pollster but because pollster Mervyn Field “didn’t factor in the hundreds of thousands of Republican votes that had already been cast by mail”(Boston.com).
We might feel something might have gone wrong in evaluation of the pollsters that led to the origin and popularity of ‘Bradley effect’. Analysts have gone on to point the technical deficiencies in data collection and evaluation by the pollsters. Mark Blumenthal argues polls are a ‘snapshot’. They reflect attitudes and preferences at any given time. The extrapolations to the data to find out who would actually vote if the elections were held today introduces complexities resulting in poll to poll variation. Very simple set of screen questions to identify likely voters can be problematic because most of the registered voters claim they are likely to vote. Blumenthal is however more optimistic about Gallup pollsters who ask a series of questions that typically correlate with actual turnout. However, Gallup is more accurate when applied in late October, while the validity of the model is more questionable in July and August. Gallup and USA Today released their most recent poll (conducted July 25 to 27) showing Barack Obama leading John McCain by 3 percentage points among registered voters but trailing by 4 points among likely voters raising the suspicion of Emroy University Political Science professor Alan Abramowitz. The data on 18 to 29 years – olds intrigued him as just 10 percent of Gallup’s likely voters were in 18-29 age bracket, “fewer than the self-identified registered voters they interviewed (15 percent) and smaller still than the three different estimates of the percentage of younger voters in 2004 (16 to 18 percent) (www.nationaljournal.com).
Even as skeptics doubt the efficacy of ‘Bradley effect’ there are those who maintain that the “Bradley Effect is still in effect”. Clinton Staffer Sergio Bendixen maintains Latino voters are not being overly friendly toward Black candidates. This opinion was challenged by Gregory Rodriguez, and Matt Barretto, Times columnist, and University of Washington political scientist respectively. Raoul Lowery Contreras writing in Los Angeles Times has taken the stand in favor of Rodriguez arguing “The Bradley Effect is still in effect”. Contreras disputes Baretto’s claims. Rodriguez and Baretto offer examples of big-city mayors supported by the Latinos in the past. These include late Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor and Tom Bradley’s Los Angeles wins over the years, among several other examples with which Contreras finds problems. According to him their analysis doesn’t delve very deep, a for instance, their example of Rep. Maxine Waters. “The problem with this example is that many aren't eligible to vote, thus, although her district was drawn on population lines, the number of registered voters in her district is significantly lower than, say, any congressman in suburban Los Angeles, Orange County or San Diego” says Contreras. Moreover, Waters is unopposed by a strong candidate, and is a Democrat in a hugely Democratic district. Also, the districts are inner city districts with low voter registration and even lower participation. As an instance of the popular sentiments in Latino community, he cites the example of his own grandfather. “My retired ironworker grandfather who never voted for a Republican in his life came back from Mexico to vote against Bradley. Why? Because, he told me, he would never vote for a black candidate for governor. His attitude ran rampant in the Latino community, particularly among older Latinos,” writes Contreras (www.latimes.com).
Can increase in black empowerment affect the level of Black socio-political participation and change the nature of Black-White differences in political behavior? In other words can we say ‘Bradley effect’ is a consequence of lack of Black empowerment? A research based on 1987 NSS data indicates Blacks in high Black empowerment areas (indicated by control of Mayor’s office) are more active than either blacks living in low-empowerment areas or White counterparts of comparable socioeconomic status. The results also indicate that empowerment influences Black participation by contributing to a more trusting and efficacious orientation to politics (Bobo and Gillam, pp.377).
Conclusion: The phrase ‘Bradley effect’ originated in context of Tom Bradley’s election for Clifornia governorship that he lost despite poll predictions in his favor. Does it mean White voters do not adhere to their claims before pollsters because of race factor. Analysts are divided on the issue. While some of them claim ‘Bradley effect’ as a potent factor in deciding the fate of a non-white candidate, there are others who think pollsters have exaggerated ‘Bradley effect’ beyond proportions because there are a number of complex factors – often ignored by pollsters – other than ‘Bradley effect’ that determine poll results. Some of these factors include issues like marginal representation, political apathy and lower participation by the Blacks. There have been a significant volume of research on racial impact on the U.S elections that go on to point that empowerment of Blacks might play a significant role in their political participation. To sum it up, it is quite likely that ‘Bradley effect’ is as much because of the White voters not voting Black candidates as Blacks themselves not being politically active and vibrant.
Bobo, Lawrence and Gillam, (Jr.) Franklin D. “Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 84, No. 2 (Jun., 1990), pp. 377-393
Cutting, Hunter. , Themba, Makani N. Talking the Walk: A Communications Guide for Racial Justice, AK Press: Oakland,CA. 2006
David Parker, “Time to Retire ‘Bradley effect’” Opininion, The Boston Globe, August 13, 2008. Retrieved on August 14, 2008 from http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles/2008/08/13/time_to_retire_bradley_effect/
Mark Blumental “A ‘Likely’ Story About Young Voters” August 7, 2008. Retrieved on August 14, 2008 from http://www.nationaljournal.com/njonline/mysterypollster.php
Raoul Lowery Contreras “The Bradley Effect is still in effect” Opinion, Los Angeles Times, Feb.5, 2005. Retrieved on August 14, 2008 from http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oew-contreras5feb05,0,5145379.story