Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Some Further Thoughts About Politics: What Now?

I don't intend to turn this into a political blog, but I should follow up after my Obama-Gushing last post, now that New Hampshire has knocked the props out of my high hopes. I still don't understand what happened. When all of the polls, by the media, independent agencies and the candidates showed Obama winning by a minimum of four points to a high of more than 10 points, and when the exit polls, where people who have already voted are asked how they voted, and they report Obama winning, how is it possible that Obama lost?

Granted, Hillary did a good job in the debate, and the show of emotion at the diner when someone asked her how she kept herself looking so good helped her, but an overnight swing that huge? And why wouldn't the exit polls show Hillary winning?

The only explanation that makes sense to me is the Bradley Effect. That is a phenomena first observed 25 years ago, when Tom Bradley, black mayor of California, ran for govenor against a white candidate. Bradley had consistent leads in the polls, and the exit polls taken after people had voted on election day showed Bradley winning, but he lost. The same phenomena has been observed with other black candidates, such as Douglas Wilder, the black governor of Virginia, and others.

The theory is that white people are reluctant to admit prejudice or to appear prejudiced and will tell pollsters that they will vote for the black candidate, but once in the polling booth, when no one knows how they voted, they vote for the white candidate. The Bradley Effect would not have come into play in the Iowa caucuses that Obama won so handily because there are no secret ballots; everyone can see who everyone else is supporting.

The Bradley Effect does not mean a black candidate can never win a secret ballot; Obama won the Illinois Senate race handily and other black candidates have won elections. It does mean that in a very close election, the black candidate would be at a disadvantage.

My initial reaction last night to the Obama defeat is that if it was the Bradley Effect that beat him, he's done as a candidate. Democrats do not have the luxury of nominating a candidate who might lose a close election, like the last two elections have been, because of the candidate's race. In looking around the blogosphere, I see there are bloggers, like the Daily Kos, making the argument that there could not have been a Bradley Effect in New Hampshire because Obama pulled about the same percentage of actual votes as had been predicted, Clinton won because she exceeded the percentage of votes that had been predicted for her. I don't understand that argument but I'm hoping it is correct.

At this point, I'm not abandoning my support for Obama. I still think he would make the best candidate and the best president. We'll just have to see how this plays out.

Now, I will not bore you with any more political ramblings. I need to tell you about the great movie I saw last weekend, Juno, my first five-star movie of the year. But that will have to wait until later.

Later note: Here's an Op-Ed piece in Thursday's New York Times by the head of the Pew Research Center offering support for the idea that the Bradley Effect was the determining factor in the New Hampshire voting.


disco said...

An argument against the Bradley Effect is that the polling info for Obama was accurate - he received the percentage of actual votes that polling said he would. Same with Edwards. The difference in the voting is that polling said Clinton would be trailing Obama, but she wound up with ~9% more votes than polling indicated she'd get. You could possibly argue that there's a Bradley Effect hidden in that group of undecided voters who wound up choosing Clinton, but it's not really the case that Obama's support went down during actual vote casting...

Amishlaw said...

I've seen that argument but I don't think I understand it. Couldn't Clinton's votes have come from Obama's, but his percentages stayed the same if there were fewer people actually voting than had been measured in the poll? Were the polls actually measuring likely voters in the Democratic primary or were they polls of all New Hampshire voters? I don't know the answers to that question.

Dan S said...

There are two theories that could also explain it, that I've heard from various places:

1. The media was so gleeful about the downfall of Hillary, combined with her unusual showing of some real emotion at the diner caused people to react at the last minute. See for the sentiment.

2. People decided that they wanted it to be a more competitive race, to see if Obama can take more heat than he's been given so far. If he had won NH handily, the momentum could have been unstoppable.

As for polls being wrong, the last polls were taken on Sunday, and obviously there was a lot of movement on Monday. I suppose it could be the Bradley effect, but it seems like we live in a different time, and Obama is a different candidate. He does not run as a "black candidate," and he seems to put white people at ease with his unity theme.

I guess the question is: How could we verify whether it is the Bradley effect, or something else? I have a hard time believing that this late in day, people would feel the need to lie to a phone pollster about who they are going to support because of race. But, I've been unpleasantly surprised before.

Also, wouldn't there be a similiar effect for a woman candidate? I've never known people to limit their prejudices to race.

Amishlaw said...

Interesting article in Salon that you linked to, Dan. As to your last observation, I agree, that there is prejudice against women, as well as against blacks, but I don't think the Bradley Effect has been noticed in races involving women. I don't know that this is true, but I wonder if prejudice against blacks draws more of a moral condemnation than prejudice against women. There is hardly anyone left anymore who will try to justify racial prejudice, while there are still plenty of apologists for treating women differently from men. The Bradley Effect is based mainly on white guilt, while misogynists like Chris Matthews still get by talking about women like they couldn't about men.

disco said...

There's an opinion piece in the NY Times today by the president of the Pew Research Center giving the argument that the Bradley Effect is what accounts for this, but that it was hidden by the polling. Specifically that Clinton was stronger than Obama among both those with family incomes below $50,000 and those who never attended college. Those groups are coincidentally the most likely to refuse to take a political survey. I guess I could just quote the article on that:

"Poorer, less well-educated white people refuse surveys more often than affluent, better-educated whites. Polls generally adjust their samples for this tendency. But here’s the problem: these whites who do not respond to surveys tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than respondents who do the interviews."

Amishlaw said...

He's saying that poor people are more likely to be racially prejudiced than rich people. I wonder what the evidence is for that. I have anecdotal evidence the other way, but I haven't seen any studies.

Lydia said...

Aw, Juno - yay!

Obama came out with the same number of delegates as Hillary in NH, and I'm also pretty optimistic that Obama's still on good ground.

Debra Hope said...