Obama, Hillary and the Bradley Effect

Pollsters and pundits have been beating themselves up since they failed to predict Hillary Clinton’s surprise victory in the New Hampshire primary. But, the pollsters were not that far off. Polls estimated that Barack Obama would receive between 36 and 42 percent of the vote and he captured 36%. John Edwards was predicted to garner between 15 and 20% and he ended up with 17%. The pollsters predicted the GOP primary almost perfectly. The only number they got wrong was Hillary Clinton’s. Expected to land in the low 30s, she won the primary with 39% of the vote. All of this would be mere fodder for future students in a statistics course, except for the fact that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have a vested interested in finding out why the polls underestimated her share of the vote. And, the voters, too, need to consider exactly what did and did not cause the surprise result. Most commentary this week has focused on the so-called "Bradley effect." In 1982, Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles ran for Governor of California, the first African-American to run for the post. The polls had him in front but he lost the race, leading pollsters and politicians to the conclusion that some voters are unwilling to tell a pollster that they will not vote for a black man, but they won’t vote for a black man. A similar disparity between polls and results occurred in North Carolina when Harvey Gantt lost to Jesse Helms by a wide margin after being tied in the polls. Noam Schieber of The New Republic has even predicted that this year there could be a counter-effect, as voters back Obama to prove they are not racist. ) But, there was no Bradley effect in New Hampshire. Obama received almost exactly the percentage of votes the pollsters predicted. Like it or not, Obama’s campaign is transcending old categories about race. And there are plenty of people who do not like it, starting with old guard civil rights leaders and black activist-pastors who, Herod-like, resent the newcomer and whisper to journalists that Obama’s fate will come to a similar unhappy end. What happened in New Hampshire seems pretty obvious. On Monday, Clinton choked up when discussing her plummeting campaign. Within hours, John Edwards was rubbing her nose in it, saying that being President was a tough job and suggesting that the emotional Mrs. Clinton might not be up for it. Some television commentators joined in too. You could almost hear the women of New Hampshire gasp in disgust. They have heard similar put-downs from men at the workplace, at their children’s school, in the parking lot. They were not going to let Hillary Clinton get thrown under the bus so quickly. They weren’t going to let her be humiliated. They turned out in numbers unexpected by anyone. Tom Bradley can rest in peace. Michael Sean Winters
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10 years 1 month ago
Congrats on the new blog America magazine ! As for the Bradley effect or lack of Bradley effect ... the real answer is that we can never know what was in the mind of the voters. The true sham of exit polls is that the forms require boxes to be checked, but voters thoughts and feeling do not fit into the boxes prepared by the pollsters. NH loves the Clintons. They may love the idea of Obama mania ... but do the love the idea of a media anointed unvetted black south chicago pol being the standard for the party ... well ... maybe HRC is not perfect ... but better the queen we know than the unproven prince. Chris


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