Hey, Bradley Effect: Good Riddance! Essayist Wendi C. Thomas says death doesn't usually bring a smile to her face, but that putting the Bradley effect to rest was an exception. B'bye!
NPR logo Hey, Bradley Effect: Good Riddance!

Hey, Bradley Effect: Good Riddance!

Wendi Thomas.
Courtesy of Wendi Thomas

Wendi Thomas is a columnist for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn.

Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to say our final goodbyes to a political theory that died Tuesday.

Rest in peace, Bradley effect.

It was born in 1982, when Los Angeles' Mayor Tom Bradley, a black man, lost the California governor's race.

Polls predicted Bradley would win, and folks were shocked when he lost. The explanation was that white people didn't want to admit their racial bias, so they told pollsters they were backing the black guy, but instead voted for his white opponent.

I admit, I was among those who worried the same effect would derail Barack Obama's bid for the White House.

Even though national polls showed Obama ahead by double-digits, I wondered if white people were being honest. Would they really vote for a black man?

But then, I remembered Iowa, a state where less than 3 percent of the population is black. Obama won the caucuses.

During Obama's campaign, the Bradley effect was diagnosed as seriously ill. And when Obama won the presidential race Tuesday, the effect died.

Death doesn't usually bring a smile to my face, but this is an exception. The demise of the Bradley effect signals that my country has moved just a little closer to honesty and racial unity.

Besides, a lot has happened since Bradley's run for governor 26 years ago. Oprah wasn't America's unofficial queen back then. And since then, an entire generation grew up watching The Cosby Show.

Today's 18-year-olds don't remember when MTV rarely showed music videos from black artists. Heck, 18-year-olds today may not remember that MTV used to show videos at all!

Since 1982, white people have gotten much more comfortable with black people. In an increasingly racially tolerant society that just elected its first black president, there's just no room for the Bradley effect.

So we'll lay it to rest. Right between the theories that white people can't dance and white men can't jump.