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Debunking the Bradley Effect
October 16, 2008 2:03 PM   Subscribe

The Persistent Myth of the Bradley Effect proposes that even if racists lied to pollsters in the 1980s, there's no evidence of that happening in 2008. The Bradley Effect - Selective Memory goes further: "The Bradley Effect was born amidst some major polling errors and a confusing array of mixed predictions, hardly a firm foundation to construct a theory."
posted by shetterly (62 comments total)

 
But what of the Reverse Bradley Effect?
posted by Mach5 at 2:07 PM on October 16, 2008


Mach5, underpolling folks in poor neighborhoods? I think that's likely. Makes me wonder if someone could come up with a list of valid theories with names inspired by debunked ones.
posted by shetterly at 2:11 PM on October 16, 2008


I feel like it is not so much the Bradley Effect at work here, as it is whatever effect makes American liberals suspicious of any polls that make it look like they're winning. It always just seems like a trick.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 2:12 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm worried that "The Bradley Effect" is just the excuse that the media's preparing for us. (It reminds me of "Forget exit polls being accurate, that's not true anymore. People lied to pollsters about voting for Bush. Simple.")

The other annoying thing is that using that coded metaphor gives newspapers and websites a lazy way to avoid running accurate headlines like "Racist Voters Could Decide Election".

Which would be more honest, and might even inspire some people to, you know, think.

So they won't do that.
posted by rokusan at 2:14 PM on October 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


(What I meant to impart in my rambling comment above: The excuse is the thing. The excuse is effective enough whether the effect itself is valid or not.)
posted by rokusan at 2:16 PM on October 16, 2008


So long as race-based voters are honest about their intentions...

A mighty stretch, indeed...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:19 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I thought we had also seen polling problems (pre and exit) where choice issues polled one way in white repub areas with many women voters, but elections went another - suggesting that more than a few fiercely coiffed women who look like Kay Bailey Hutchison might harrumph around about abortion being a big bucket of evil to be tolerated only in the most extreme cases, yet they went into the booth and pulled the lever 100% for choice.

Also, we are not winning. I just got an email: "The surest way to lose a race is to slow down with the finish line in sight." Keep cool, keep working, get the vote out, and try not to start killing people with an axe at your next family dinner. (That last one is getting harder and harder for me.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:31 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


If Republicans commit the same voter fraud they did in 2000 and 2004, then having this excuse and others in place will help them maintain some semblance of control after stealing this election.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:31 PM on October 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


The single biggest misconception about the Bradley Effect: that it's about whites who are racists.

In fact, it seems to be exactly the opposite. It's about whites who are not racist but fear to be thought of as racists. So they lie to pollsters and say they'll vote for the black guy, even though they don't intend to for reasons unrelated to his race.
posted by Class Goat at 2:31 PM on October 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


If Republicans commit the same voter fraud they did in 2000 and 2004, then having this excuse and others in place will help them maintain some semblance of control after stealing this election.

That's a curious accusation considering that the headlines are full of accusations of registration fraud by ACORN, which is strongly associated with the Democratic party and specifically with Obama himself.
posted by Class Goat at 2:36 PM on October 16, 2008


Another issue is that Republicans are eager to remind Americans that it's not racist to vote against Obama because he's black. It assists in setting up the cognitive dissonance that will be needed to rationalize that decision.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:37 PM on October 16, 2008


Blazecock Pileon, I'm actually just as worried about the possibility for voter fraud to be committed by the same folks, but in the other direction. What better way to taint the legitimacy of someone you don't think you can prevent from winning than to secretly cheat to help him win by too much in some areas? Then they can point at all of that and proclaim that he stole the election.
posted by evilangela at 2:39 PM on October 16, 2008


Yet another approach is to link to Stormfront-like sites to help spread rumors and misinformation. Swift Boating helps establish fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of undecided voters. The "Bradley Effect", as such, is just another talking point to arouse racial tensions and help make the election closer, if not help Republican criminals reverse the results entirely. It's a passive-aggressive way to let both those who incite racial fears and those who fall prey to them off the hook, letting the guilty parties say, "See, we told you so," while letting race-motivated voters assuage guilty consciences. "Everyone else would have voted the same way, so it's okay for me to do it, too."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:44 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


bottom line is what you are saying...


If McCain loses, the voters got a fair ballot.


If Obama loses, the Republicans lied, cheated, and stole the election.


These are the only logical senerios. Liberalism is right and all other opinions are bogus and should not even be voiced.
posted by shockingbluamp at 2:45 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


That's a curious accusation considering that the headlines are full of accusations of registration fraud.

If some clowns register "Mickey Mouse" in order to get their ten dollar bonus, that doesn't impact the election, unless that registration is somehow approved (it would not be) and they then find some way for Mickey to show up and vote, too.

Registration is not voting. You know this, right?
posted by rokusan at 2:52 PM on October 16, 2008 [11 favorites]


"the headlines are full of accusations of registration fraud by ACORN, which is strongly associated with the Democratic party"

You do know that voter fraud is largely unrelated to registration fraud, right? They are two completely diiferent things.
posted by Ragma at 2:53 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I am hoping the Palin Effect neutralizes whatever Bradley Effect might be out there. I think she'll keep lots of Republican moderates at home Nov. 4th, and she seems to have energized a lot of disengaged Democrats to get involved. Throw in some Reverse Bradley and again we are looking at landslide.

I bet Obama has lots of internals on this and I would LOVE to get a peek at them.
posted by Camofrog at 2:53 PM on October 16, 2008


The theft of the 2004 vote in Ohio, at least, is well documented. Historically, it doesn't really matter which party benefited from it: the system is very broken and should be fixed.

Obama winning won't change that. If he does win, election reform had still better be on his agenda, or many of us won't take him seriously for long.
posted by rokusan at 2:54 PM on October 16, 2008


Oh, Ragma you rascal. Get out of my snarky head.
posted by rokusan at 2:55 PM on October 16, 2008


shockingbluamp - how is that the bottom line? (And more to the point here, how does it address the original post? And yet here I go...) Where can you show that there have been meaningful, and particularly democratic fraud votes cast?

On the other hand, we've seen large scale attempts at voter suppression.

Me, I think a lot of people tell pollsters what they think pollsters expect them to say...
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:59 PM on October 16, 2008


I'm no fan of the Democrats, but Republicans accusing them of vote fraud is just plain hilarious.

We do need an excuse for when the exit polls fail us on election day, though... I suppose this "Bradley Effect" will have to do. It's a hell of a lot better than that "Kerry voters are more likely to participate in exit polls than Bush voters" bullshit we got last time.
posted by mek at 3:08 PM on October 16, 2008


Gah - my main computer completed a process just at the end of the last jacked-up post and I swiveled away to quickly.

This is the link I should have checked before posting. (Curse you Vista clipboard!)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:09 PM on October 16, 2008


But what of the Reverse Bradley Effect?

That would be me; a white, lower-middle class, almost forty, gun lover who lives in a very Republican neighborhood walking into a polling center, making it clear that I was voting for McCain, and pulling that lever hard for a straight Democrat ticket.

I have no intention of doing this, I'm just speculating as to what the reverse of the hypothetical effect could be.
posted by quin at 3:10 PM on October 16, 2008


I can imagine a Reverse Bradley Effect where someone lives in a very traditional white community and doesn't want to say that he supports the black guy but thinks that McCain and or Palin are too wacky to vote for.
posted by octothorpe at 3:22 PM on October 16, 2008


I bet Obama has lots of internals on this and I would LOVE to get a peek at them.

I don't think you want to do that. I don't think anyone would attempt to hide their disgust at the idea voting in the first Zombie American. So until people loosen up and learn to accept that the undead are kinda-sorta people, too, Obama should stay inside-in and outside-out.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:23 PM on October 16, 2008


The comparison of projections and actual percentages in the first link was pretty interesting. It gives me hope (but I won't celebrate until the magic number has been reached)

Obama has an interesting take on people voting for or against him because he is black - that the issue of race is a wash because the two groups will cancel each other out. Of course this assumes that the groups are of approximately equal size (and likely to vote). I think it would be informative to devise a means to estimate those people to see if that is in fact the case. Ideally, this would be a survey not directly aimed at this election but general attitudes about voting for or against someone because of racial attributes.
posted by bluesky43 at 3:23 PM on October 16, 2008


I just hope there's no Bill Bradley effect - you know, where the intelligent, highly-qualified Ivy-league graduate with a good jump shot finishes a distant second in the end?
posted by ericbop at 3:29 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


And I swore I read about this on MeFi before, but the Wikipedia page on the Bradley has a section on "Barack Obama and the Reverse Bradley Effect" - interesting stuff.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:30 PM on October 16, 2008


These are the only logical senerios. Liberalism is right and all other opinions are bogus and should not even be voiced.

So far, the only objection from the Right against Obama is that he's not "one of us", even when it is explained (patiently) that nearly all of what apparently makes Obama "not one of us" have to date been shown to be complete and total fabrications. There is very rarely any discussion of the issues; instead, the Right apologetically stokes fears about Obama's upbringing, his race, his schooling, about his name, about criminals with whom he has no affiliation. There is practically no substantive criticism of any of the policies he's put forward.

The media has walked hand in hand with the Right in promoting this campaign of dishonesty. The "Bradley Effect" is merely an attempt to legitimize bigotry, by giving a "scientific" name to what is really cheapened excusing of old, ugly hatreds. Because the term carries the (fraudulent) authority of rhetoric (capitalized letters make it Official and Legitimate), people who don't want to vote for a black man are allowed less moral responsibility for their own voting decisions; it lets them off the hook. Shame on the MSM for parroting yet another Republican talking point.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:32 PM on October 16, 2008


Race is a very different issue today than in the 1980s. A lot of people might be too young to remember this, but interracial relationships in high school were pretty rare back then, and now they don't really raise an eyebrow. Also, in huge parts of America, the growth among Hispanics and Asians has made race much more fluid and less, well, B&W.
posted by msalt at 3:35 PM on October 16, 2008




So far, the only objection from the Right against Obama is that he's not "one of us",

Really? That's the only objection that the Republicans have with the Democratic candidate for President? There's no ideological differences with our Lord Obama?
posted by smackfu at 3:54 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I found this interesting.
posted by Mblue at 3:58 PM on October 16, 2008


Forget the Bradley effect... what about the horny zombie effect?!
posted by markkraft at 4:07 PM on October 16, 2008


McCain ACORN Fears Overblown
posted by homunculus at 4:15 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not to be all conspiracy theorist (ok, well, fine, I like being a conspiracy theorist), isn't it possible that in the Bradley election there were voting, uh, irregularities like we had in 2000 (Florida and elsewhere) and 2004 (Ohio and elsewhere)? Weren't Republicans 30 years ago even more bewildered and frightened of a black mayor of a large city? Wouldn't they have been even more motivated to, frankly, steal the election? The Bradley Effect as it's known was almost certainly a factor, but getting percentage numbers of it is impossible.

I have trouble believing that the theft in the last two presidential elections was the first time it has occurred in American politics.

/just sayin'
posted by zardoz at 4:25 PM on October 16, 2008


This article did even come close to debunking anything. It's interesting I had never heard of the bradly efect but I have essentially described the so-called "undecides" precisely according to this "effect." I don't think there is any wild abstraction being drawn in concluding people are just not honest about how they really feel about race. even to themselves.

Let's face it one way or another peoples inclinations on race will have a serious effect on this election. No two ways about it.
posted by tkchrist at 4:35 PM on October 16, 2008


I won't consider this Bradley Myth debunked until asavage comments on it. Until then, let's leave it as plausible.
posted by barnacles at 4:50 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good point, zardoz; I think that new media systems allow people to observe election theft, but we haven't hit the point where people are willing to risk the integrity of our perceived democracy to fight it. Challenging the theft of an election is politically destabilizing. That's what we saw in 2000, and probably why there wasn't an outcry in 2004. Our electoral system is fairly broken, and steps need to be made to fix it.

I personally would like to see a nationally mandated mail-in ballot program, as Oregon has. There you can mail in the ballot, or drop it off in designated lock-boxes in each city. Voter turn out is great, people get to sit down and fill things out at their leisure (no forgetting one's cheat sheet), and there's no Diebold shenanigans, and it eliminates problems involving incompetant and overly scarce poll workers. It's worth noting that in response to the massive voting problems manifested in the last few national elections, something like half of Colorado has opted for mail-in ballots.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:50 PM on October 16, 2008


Are there really enough people out there who worry about what a polling company employee at the other end of a telephone thinks to dramatically & consistently sway statistics? Seriously. A stranger working for a company calls me and asks my opinion, and I'm going to tell him the opposite because I'm afraid of what? It doesn't seem possible that this could amount to 10% of all Americans polled every day. If so, people all over the whole country need to grow a set.

I think it's much more highly likely that Obama actually holds +/- 10-point lead right now than there being +/- 10% of people polled consistently lying about voting for the black guy because they're afraid to admit to poll-takers that they're not. Occam's razor & all that. As such.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:00 PM on October 16, 2008


The thing that sucks about the Bradley Effect is that it knows when to become a force in an election. For example, the Bradley Effect decided not to assert itself in fifty consecutive primaries/caucuses against Hilary Clinton. It was clearly just waiting for the opportunity to influence the general election. There is no way to stop it.
posted by flarbuse at 5:06 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


D Rancher people are not 100% consciously aware of their own bias.

Look I worked in advertising for a dozen years. The fact is with various psychological models you can predict what people (in the aggregate) will or won't do based upon their fears and subconscious desires with amazing accuracy. Racism is persistent and endemic in our society. People have been inundated with negative images of black men for the last 40 years.

No. Sorry but y'all are on crack if you think these polls are accurate.

I have had conversation after conversation with so-called "undecideds" and when you ask the right questions suddenly are not so undecided. These people are hardly "independents." At least most of them, anyway.

Let me break it down:
-They don't like Bush becuase nobody else likes Bush anymore.
-They don't like McCain all that much becuase it used to be nobody liked McCain.
-They don't know about Obama becuase he has a funny name, even though he sounds smart, he looks threatening. Ie: he's black.
-OR-The're afraid of Obama becuase he might "unleash" the blacks.

Once you strip away their utter lack of policy knowledge, it's simply that Obama might somehow exact revenge on whitey that worries them most. This has come up time and time again with pollsters and interviewers who actually dig deep. So called independents are usually more polite about it.

Most these "undecideds" are scared shitless. It's just another layer of fear on top all the rest they have been fed for generations. Unlike the "declared" voters they just are less aware and more confused by it all. If you can imagine that.

You think they're just gonna simply just decide to see around all that in 8 short months of the Obama campaign?
posted by tkchrist at 5:24 PM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


America gets the leaders they deserve. G-d help us.
posted by shockingbluamp at 5:27 PM on October 16, 2008


For example, the Bradley Effect decided not to assert itself in fifty consecutive primaries/caucuses against Hilary Clinton.

Well. the flaw there is that the Primary Voter is very, very, different in motivation, education and awareness of politics. And of course primaries ARE partisan. They aren't about the "undecideds" at all.

Also. you are assuming there was no "Bradley effect"... when there sure could have been. All due respect to 538, he has hardly got a bullet proof argument there.
posted by tkchrist at 5:28 PM on October 16, 2008


PS. Nothing would make me happier than if I was wrong. Honestly. But betting against people better nature has taken me pretty far so far. So I'm sticking with it.
posted by tkchrist at 5:30 PM on October 16, 2008


My definition of the "reverse Bradley effect" is different : Of republicans saying they're voting for McCain but actually really voting for Obama.

My anecdotal evidence (among republican consultants, although not the one I mention in my post) seems to point to that trend. They don't want other party people to know how they're really voting.

The Reverse Bradley Effect
http://culturekitchen.com/liza/blog/the_reverse_bradley_effect
posted by liza at 5:38 PM on October 16, 2008


The Reverse Bradley Effect

Interesting. I've had more traction converting Republicans than undecideds. A good buddy of mine, a corporate lawyer, Ivy League Graduate, and die hard Republican finally had enough with Palin. It was the constant anti-elite bullshit that finally pissed him off. In his mind he feels that the GOP must be punished for their incompetence by being taken from power.

And so I pounced.

I wasn't sure until I saw his SUV with an Obama sticker last week.
posted by tkchrist at 6:03 PM on October 16, 2008


But what of the Reverse Bradley Effect?

No joke, I envisioned this excuse being (hypothetically) trotted out by the right wingers after Obama (hypothetically)trounces them in a (hypothetical) landslide.

The line of logic behind the "Reverse Bradley" trumpeted by the O'Reilleys and Limbaughs of this world will not be that minorities were under polled, but that people were too busy trying to prove they were [NOT RACIST] rather than vote on the issues.

I added all the (hypothetical)s because I don't want to jinx any of this.
posted by piratebowling at 6:09 PM on October 16, 2008


I've always had a problem with the Bradley Effect theory--it assumes that racists lie about who they're voting for. But they don't. They want their guy to win, so they don't want him or her to look weak. What racists lie about is their motives--racists gladly tell you they're voting for McCain or David Duke or the relevant white person because of that person's politics and not their race.

Remember that W's cabinet looked "more like America" than Clinton's. I doubt there's a Republican out there who thinks "voting Republican" equals "voting racist." There's no shame for conservatives, whether racist or not, in saying they're voting for McCain.

Also, I gained enormous respect for polling after the polls said Gore won Florida in 2000.
posted by shetterly at 6:13 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


P.S. I do agree that no one should stay home under the assumption that Obama will win. McCain's base will turn out, no matter what the polls say.
posted by shetterly at 6:16 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I personally would like to see a nationally mandated mail-in ballot program, as Oregon has.

Talk about vote fraud...Oregonians are either very honest, astonishingly naive, or utterly crooked. Vote fraud and electoral corruption have a long history in my state, and the absentee ballots have always been a big piece of it in local races. Mail-in ballots of any kind would work. See, you buy a vote, and you get the voter to do a mail-in absentee ballot. Then you can make sure they really have voted the way you want, and that they're not just taking your money and doing as they please. These days you have to promise you have a good reason for getting a mail-in absentee ballot, but that kind of fraud still goes on. Some counties allow you to go vote early if you'll be out of town, but you go in person and show ID just as if you went to the polls.
posted by dilettante at 6:36 PM on October 16, 2008


Some counties allow you to go vote early if you'll be out of town, but you go in person and show ID just as if you went to the polls.

There's early voting here. Don't need a reason. I'm voting this Saturday. The polling place is the same one I'd go to on Nov. 4.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:56 PM on October 16, 2008




You think they're just gonna simply just decide to see around all that in 8 short months of the Obama campaign?

Well, Obama's been running all told since February, 2007. Anyway, you have to weigh their fears of a black president against their fears of a broken economy and a poorly conceived war. Even the low information voters can sense a lack of competence, which has been a serious problem for McCain, and not a lot of people have any confidence he could handle the current crisis. Palin doesn't help in this regard. Normally, I'd agree with you, but this is a change election, and confidence in the incumbent and his party are at historic lows. I think this is the time when people will make the leap of faith based on their wallets and their frustrations.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:05 PM on October 16, 2008


Besides, tkchrist, think about this. it was in March, 1965 when over 500 people marched from Selma to Montgomery. That's 43 years ago - two generations. That's very much in the memories of a lot of living people. Many people in the US are in denial that we have racial issues, but perceptions do change, and this isn't 1965, this isn't 1982, and this isn't even 2004. I think this is one of those moments where we shift as a society. Not all in one day, but I think a lot of people are willing to choose competence over race who would never have done so even four years ago.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:14 PM on October 16, 2008


44 years ago ...
posted by krinklyfig at 7:17 PM on October 16, 2008


yeash... McCain has had plenty of direct ties with ACORN in the past. They are just being used to help establish a basis for the Republicans to feel well and truly cheated come Nov 5th.

We live in a period where the majority tries like hell to not accept responsibility for any negative actions. So McCain won't 'lose' he will have been 'cheated out of' the election.

Fer Christ sakes, in many States registration workers are required by law to turn in all registration cards collected, so if they collect a bunch of jack-asses claiming to be Alfred E Newman, that is what the State receives, often times ACORN indicates registrations they believe to be fraudulent to the respective Secretaries of State. McCain knows this... or he should... ACORN does not pose a threat to our very democracy as he so mildly put it.

I say all of this while still being a critic of ACORN, I don't care for they way they run things despite having good intentions. I think they are generally mismanaged and do sloppy work. But, I also think politically attacking them is a load of bullshit.
posted by edgeways at 7:49 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


McCain has had plenty of direct ties with ACORN in the past.
Fer Christ sakes.
posted by Mblue at 8:02 PM on October 16, 2008


tkchrist, you're just trying to grind my soul into dust, right?
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:08 AM on October 17, 2008


That's a curious accusation considering that the headlines are full of accusations of registration fraud by ACORN, which is strongly associated with the Democratic party and specifically with Obama himself.

OMG! All the polls have Obama winning because of the thousands of fake Mickey Mouses who will vote for Obama because their ears look the same!
posted by dirigibleman at 4:29 AM on October 17, 2008


What you goddamn liberals don't realize is that ACORN is falsifying poll responders, too! Wake up, sheeple! Their tentacles are EVERYWHERE.
They are the biggest threat to democracy in the history of the world, just like McCain said. Much bigger threat than that Hitler loser.
posted by msalt at 10:27 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]




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