The Bradley Effect?

With Election Day only 17 days away, count me unsure. No, I'm not one of those vaunted 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 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 white voters lie about supporting Obama.

Clifford Alexander Young, senior vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs , asked:

"What is the social sanction for saying you will vote for McCain?"

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 consensus: the Bradley or Wilder Effect is an artifact of the past.

However, David Iannelli, managing director of Public Strategies Inc. , wasn't quite as sanguine:

"I am not sold there's not a Bradley effect. The turnout issue will overwhelm the effect, specifically young voter turnout in key states."

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 sizable 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, observed:
"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."

If the Bradley Effect is alive and kicking, Obama does not stand a ghost of a chance without a massive turnout of African-American and young voters.

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