Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who's Going to Vote for "That One"?

In the Psychology Today blogs section, they ran a post by

Who's Going to Vote for "That One"?

VotingIf you thought we've been drowning in political opinion polls for a while now, just wait to see what the next three weeks brings as Election Day approaches. And the $64,000 question, as always, remains how accurate are these polls? This is a particularly perplexing query this year given the potentially biasing impact of the notorious Bradley Effect.

The Effect is named after Tom Bradley, the African-American mayor of Los Angeles who ran for governor of California in 1982. Bradley lost that election to a White Republican, George Deukmejian, despite the fact that Bradley had been leading by as much as double-digits in polls in the weeks leading up to the vote. Some, but not all, of the exit polls on Election Day also incorrectly foretold a Bradley victory. And thus, a political legend was born: polls often overstate support for a Black candidate because Whites don't want to admit their true preferences to pollsters.

As with any theory, assessment of the so-called effect requires efforts to falsify it. Closer scrutiny suggests that perhaps it is not as well-established as some would have us believe. Lance Tarrance, a campaign pollster for Bradley's opponent in 1982, wrote an interesting piece yesterday. In it, he explains that the polls for the '82 gubernatorial race were actually narrowing the entire week leading up to the vote, to the point where it was really too-close-too-call on Election Day. Furthermore, he suggests that any inaccurate conclusions based on exit polling simply reflected that Bradley did win the in-person vote, but Deukmejian pulled ahead once absentee ballots were counted.

Now I realize the dangers of basing general conclusions on the word of just one source (not to mention a source who was anything but impartial as the events in question transpired). But Tarrance's article is compelling and at the very least suggests that the evidence for the Bradley Effect is not as iron-clad as many in the media have made it out to be.

What other basis is there for talking about the effect? Other elections in which Black candidates received a smaller percentage of the vote than some polls would have predicted: Douglas Wilder in Virginia; David Dinkins in New York City. What's striking about this supporting evidence is that it doesn't seem to come from empirical analyses of how voters respond to poll questions. Rather, support for the Bradley Effect typically takes the form of corroboration through anecdote.

Read the whole post.

No comments: