Pollsters Debate 'Bradley Effect'
By Steven A. Holmes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2008; A06
Not long ago, it was considered political gospel: Be wary of polls when an election involves an African American candidate, because many whites will voice support but then vote for the white opponent.
Most experts say they do not believe that the phenomenon, known as the "Bradley effect," is at work in this election. But some disagree. And if the effect has disappeared, it is not clear whether that is because polling techniques have improved or because the country has become more tolerant about race.
"The Bradley effect may have been an artifact of the country 20 years ago, but I don't think it's a factor now," said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. "Polling has gotten better, but I think, more importantly, the country has changed."
The phenomenon got its name a generation ago, after former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley (D), an African American, lost the 1982 gubernatorial race in California despite leading his white opponent in the polls on the eve of the election. Some experts suspected at the time that a portion of white voters, reluctant to appear biased, had essentially lied to pollsters about which candidate they were supporting. But whether Bradley lost because of hidden racism has never been clear.
A post-election analysis by Mervin Field, whose California Field Poll showed Bradley up seven points in the campaign's final stage, attributed the late shift to an unusually large number of GOP absentee voters, relatively low turnout among nonwhite voters and the coincidence of a handgun initiative on the state ballot.
He also highlighted the role of race, which may have been enough to tip the balance to Bradley's opponent, George Deukmejian (R), but emphasized that that alone would not have been enough to turnaround the Democrat's lead.