Why is No One Discussing the Bradley Effect?

Although the picture is not entirely clear, it does appear that Barack Obama is drawing ahead in national and especially swing state polls. But can we trust the polls?

Before the 2008 election, there were numerous discussions of the Bradley effect — the name given to the propensity of black candidates to get fewer votes than their pre-election poll numbers would predict.

One hypothesis explaining the discrepancy was that some white voters were reluctant to tell pollsters they were going to vote against the black candidate, but did so in the privacy of the voting booth.

On the other hand, there were also suggestions of a “reverse Bradley effect” in which black candidates did better than polls suggested in states with many (over 25%) black voters. Explanations included the reluctance of black voters to tell pollsters who they were voting for, and under-sampling errors in the polls.

According to Wikipedia, the 2008 Presidential election did not provide evidence of a Bradley effect, but did provide some limited evidence of a reverse Bradley effect. This may be why talk of the Bradley effect is off the table.

But 2008 was seen as an historic moment: electing a black President would not end racism but it would be a big marker en route to that goal, and decisive statement about how the US had changed since 1960, not to mention 1860. Now we’ve been there, done that. Does that re-open the door to the Bradley effect? Maybe not. Maybe we’re past all that. But I don’t think that one data point proves it.

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