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Election 2008

Was it the Bradley Effect?

Desiree Cooper

Angela Kim

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Tom Bradley
(MIKE NELSON / Getty Images)
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Desiree Cooper: So Michael, what is the Bradley Effect?

Michael Fauntroy: Well, the Bradley Effect is a phenomenon that dates back to the early 1980s and got its name from Tom Bradley. It's based on the 1982 gubernatorial race in which white voters told pollsters one thing and voted a different way once they got to the ballot box. And some of it is voters not wanting to be sort of overt in their racial concerns about a particular candidate. And in the case of Tom Bradley, he had a tremendous lead going into in campaign, before his election rather, and seemed to have a very comfortable lead but lost. And so, there's this notion that voters are not honest with their pollsters. Now that has declined somewhat over the years but it's still a factor.

And it repeated after Bradley.

It repeated a number of times. In the 1980s, you begin to see a number of African-Americans seeking elective offices in places which there have never been any African-Americans running. You had Harold Washington, who ran for mayor of Chicago in a very closely contested race. Another very notable example is Doug Wilder's 1989 gubernatorial race in which he had a double-digit lead before the balloting and actually won by less than one percentage point.

Is the Bradley Effect still at play? And if it is, how is it at play?

Our polling is much better now than it was than in 1982. And I think pollsters are on the look out for things to tip off the Bradley Effect. It's been 26 years nearly. As you fast-forward the clock, I think it's less likely to occur now than in 1982, but I do still think it can be seen. The questions for me is, how many points does that account for in the race in New Hampshire?

Michael, how do you think we'll see the Bradley Effect play out in the future in this election?

Pollsters are going to be more on the look out for this. Voters and poll respondents are going to be on the look out for this a bit more. What I think, the extent to which we see the Bradley Effect as we go forward through these primaries, it will be very stark as more Democratic candidates fall by the wayside. Governor Bill Richardson has announced that he's stepping out of the race.

And so there's only three major candidates. Once it appears clear that either John Edwards or Hillary Clinton falls by the wayside, you'll then have a circumstance in which voters are confronted with the absolute likelihood that an African-American can win the Democratic nomination and therefore can actually win the presidency. So as we go forward and you see some of these races, particularly races in sort of the mid-South -- I would say when you go from Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri -- these are states in which could possibly show itself again.

Well Michael, I want to thank you for joining us.

Very happy to help.

  • Music Bridge:
    Gegen alles bereit
    Artist: Couch
    CD: Figur 5 (Morr)
More stories from our Election 2008 series


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