The Polls and the "Bradley Effect"Don't look now, but the polls are starting to reflect a closer presidential race in the closing days and weeks of the contest. Gallup's Likely Voter poll has Barack Obama and John McCain in a statistical dead heat, with Obama up only by two points-that is within the margin of error. Meanwhile, Zogby has Obama up by an even five percentage points in its daily tracker today. This is a certain lead, to be sure, but a five point lead is hardly insurmountable with less than three weeks to go. Rasmussen shows Barack Obama up by four points. Again, if McCain campaigns in the right places with the right message, there is enough time to make this campaign an even split going into Election Day.
Now we hear concern from our friends on the Left about the so-called Bradley Effect, the idea that because Barack Obama is an African-American, people may be lying to the pollsters, but may be racist and will not vote for Obama because he is black. I do not normally like to quote political columnist Ann Coulter because while I agree with her personal politics, she often comes across as hateful and brash. However, I think Coulter hit the nail on the head in her October 15th column. If there is such an effect in this year's election, it won't be because everyone who voted differently than they told the pollsters is a racist. It may be that people fibbed to the questioner out of fear that their vote for McCain will be seen as racism whether it is or not:
First of all, if true, this is the opposite of racism: It is fear of being accused of racism. For most Americans, there is nothing more terrifying than the prospect of being called a racist. It's scarier than flood or famine, terrorist attacks or flesh-eating bacteria. To some, it's even scarier than "food insecurity."
Political correctness has taught people to lie to pollsters rather than be forced to explain why they're not voting for the African-American.
To oppose someone who happens to be African-American in our modern climate of political correctness can get a person labeled as a racist in the minds of others while they may not be racist at all. People do not want to be labeled as a racist in today's society, and that really is a testament to how far we've come in a relatively short period of time in our national history on the question of equal protection under the law for all citizens. What the media and certain people on the Left fail to realize is that the notion that people may be afraid to share their true political feelings for fear of being labeled a racist is because the Left has made anything seen to oppose an African-American to be "racist." The Left has created a new sort of racism where it is politically incorrect to oppose black Democratic candidates, and that makes for real racism, because it follows that those candidates will not stand up to the same scrutiny as a white candidate. The Left's notion of modern racism is descriminatory to African-Americans, and many people of all races don't even realize that.
Coulter also points out that the press has been known to run polls in the past which later prove to be entirely too favorable to the Democrat, regardless of their skin color:
In 1976, Jimmy Carter narrowly beat Gerald Ford 50.1 percent to 48 percent. And yet, on Sept. 1, Carter led Ford by 15 points. Just weeks before the election, on Oct. 16, 1976, Carter led Ford in the Gallup Poll by 6 percentage points -- down from his 33-point Gallup Poll lead in August.
Reading newspaper coverage of presidential elections in 1980 and 1984, I found myself paralyzed by the fear that Reagan was going to lose.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan beat Carter by nearly 10 points, 51 percent to 41 percent. In a Gallup Poll released days before the election on Oct. 27, it was Carter who led Reagan 45 percent to 42 percent.
In 1984, Reagan walloped Walter Mondale 58.8 percent to 40 percent, -- the largest electoral landslide in U.S. history. But on Oct. 15, The New York Daily News published a poll showing Mondale with only a 4-point deficit to Reagan, 45 percent to 41 percent. A Harris Poll about the same time showed Reagan with only a 9-point lead. The Oct. 19 New York Times/CBS News Poll had Mr. Reagan ahead of Mondale by 13 points. All these polls underestimated Reagan's actual margin of victory by 6 to 15 points.
In 1988, George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis by a whopping 53.4 percent to 45.6 percent. A New York Times/CBS News Poll on Oct. 5 had Bush leading the Greek homunculus by a statistically insignificant 2 points -- 45 percent to 43 percent.
This leads to a larger question: I am not one to disregard polls. As a political columnist and a political scientist, not to mention someone who has worked on several political campaigns, polls are something that I live and die by. However, polls can be manipulated either by the pollsters or the agencies they are polling for to say what those groups might want them to say. In the case of the mainstream press, whose Democratic sympathies are an open secret in 2008, could they be manipulating some of these poll results that have shown Barack Obama with ever-widening leads in order to sway the outcome of the election? One may never really know for sure, but there exists at least some strong circumstancial evidence that the press has attempted to engage in that kind of behavior before.
We already know from 2000 and 2004 what poor prognosticators and election callers the media really are.