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Will there be a ‘Bradley effect’?

L. Douglas Wilder was the first African-American to be elected governor of a US state.

world Updated: Nov 03, 2008 23:40 IST
V Krishna
V Krishna
Hindustan Times

L. Douglas Wilder was the first African-American to be elected governor of a US state.

He won the Virginia governor’s race in 1989 by less than half a percentage point after holding a comfortable lead in the polls.

So some people use the expression Wilder effect as a synonym for the Bradley effect, which describes a polling error believed to be caused by white voters telling pollsters they will vote for a black candidate but not actually doing so.

It is named for former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a Democrat, who lost the California gubernatorial race to Republican George Deukmejian despite being ahead in the polls.

Although there is some speculation that this could cost Democrat Barack Obama the 2008 presidential election, most experts see little evidence of such an effect.

Wilder himself believes that today, the reverse could happen — that is, some white people who would never admit supporting a black candidate would actually vote for one in the privacy of the voting booth. He calls this the reverse Bradley effect.

Interestingly, a steel worker HT met in the depressed Pennsylvania town of Johnstown also sees this happening.

Asked about the local Congressman’s description of the area as racist, Dave Motel, a United Steelworkers union member who supports Obama, said there are people who say “they are not going to vote for a black man.”

But he believes some of them will end up supporting Obama.

“They won’t admit it, but once you go in the booth, it doesn’t matter what you say outside the booth. You gotta make your choice when you are in there. And it’s between you and whoever you believe in.”

Motel thinks the change is due to the poor state of the economy.

And some analysts agree.

But let us be clear about this: discounting the Bradley effect is not the same thing as saying race won’t play any role in the election.