Now that McCain is closing the gap on Obama’s poll leads, people are whispering about a resurgent “Bradley Effect.” That term has its origin in a 1982 gubernatorial contest between George Deukmejian, a white candidate, and a black candidate named Tom Bradley. Polling data showed Bradley with a double-digit lead heading into the election. But the Los Angeles mayor ended up losing by 1.2 points.
Given the divide between the pre-polling figures and the actual count, many people saw the result as a manifestation of closet racism. According to this theory, white voters exaggerated the extent to which they were willing to support the black candidate ““ or lied ““ and then voted against him. This caused Bradley’s support among white people to be inflated in the polls.
The expectation is that the Bradley Effect has to do with people’s perceptions about what is socially acceptable. For instance, people of a higher income level might be more cognizant of what is politically correct and consequently might feel compelled to say they’re supporting a black candidate. Meanwhile, older people still clinging to the stigmas of their youth and middle age might be more forthcoming.
While some people suggest that the Bradley Effect does not exist at all, and others say that it subsided long ago, a number of recent elections seem to have witnessed the phenomenon, with the white candidate eking out a scant victory after trailing in the polls.
People speculate that it may have occurred as recently as this year’s New Hampshire primary, where a late survey showed Barack Obama with a 13-point lead over Hillary Clinton. He ended up losing by 3 points.
One thing is certain: Race has become an issue in this campaign, and it can’t be good ““ for Obama or for the country. Bill Clinton (whom Toni Morrison fondly called “the first black president”) was one of the first to sound the alarm, on Obama no less, when he accused Obama of playing the “race card” by distorting comments he made.
Obama himself issued an ominous warning in July that George Bush and John McCain would try to frighten people by mentioning that Obama “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.” Then, just two weeks ago, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) made news when he compared McCain to George Wallace, a segregationist.
I doubt very much that the Bradley Effect on its own could spell an Obama defeat. I think it’s overstated.
However, I have an inkling that another force might come into play. My hypothesis is that, given the popular emphasis on romantic idealism and whatnot, young people might be pledging their support for Obama in the spirit of progressivism, without a clear idea of what they will do when push comes to shove.
To be clear, I don’t suppose that young people will discriminate against Obama based on his race, but it’s conceivable that their support for him will be more cautious when they actually have to mark the ticket.
Victor Wolfenstein, a professor of political science who studies African American culture and social movements, remarks that Obama also has to contend with something called the “Black Tax,” or “the extra steps black folk must take to prove themselves as capable and worthy, in comparison to white folk.”
To Wolfenstein, there is considerable empirical evidence to support this, including a recent study by Stanford and AP-Yahoo News that suggests that Obama is paying the equivalent of a 6 percent “tax” in polling numbers for his color.
But there could also be factors working in Obama’s favor. It’s plausible, for instance, that people might try to dodge the racism charge by actually turning in favor of Obama ““ not after more cost-benefit analysis but to avoid being deemed racist. This is known as the “Reverse Bradley Effect.”
According to Joey Indiviglia, a third-year English student, “what everyone tends to forget is that Obama is only half black. So instead of calling him the first potential black president, why don’t we call him the first possible half-white president? It makes no difference.”
It would be incredibly unwise of the Obama campaign to blame the Bradley Effect or any other racial happenstance if he loses. Even so, the supposition of many liberals is that if he doesn’t win, it would be because of nothing other than white racism.
Liberals cannot even conceive of an Obama defeat; they guffaw at anyone even considering John McCain as a candidate. They can think of one explanation: xenophobia.
Jacob Weisberg, a left-wing journalist, recently wrote that “if Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth.”
Frankly, this accusation is both arrogant and naive; it shows faithlessness in the decency of the American people and their candor. Unfortunately, it’s part and parcel of many liberals’ mentalities.
History will judge us by what we do on one day this November. Hence, we have quite the conundrum: Do we save the country from certain disaster and an Obama-Pelosi-Reed triumvirate, or do we try to preserve racial harmony for the sake of our children? Many people will still be in line, biting their nails, before they decide.