The “Bradley effect” is named after Tom Bradley, who was leading in the polls for California governor in 1982, but lost a close race to George Deukmejian. The “Bradley effect” means that a white voter often tells a poll taker that a vote will be cast for a black candidate (so as not to appear racist to the poll taker); however, in the privacy of the voting booth, the white voter votes for the white candidate. In 1989, L. Douglas Wilder won an unexpectedly close race for Virginia governor, leading some to call the phenomenon the “Wilder effect.” In 1993, David Dinkins won an unexpectedly closed race for New York City mayor, resulting in a “Dinkins effect.” The names “Wilder effect” and “Dinkins effect” are seldom used.
Although the Tom Bradley race was in 1982, the name “Bradley effect” appears to have been cited in print since about 1989.
Wikipedia: Bradley effect
The Bradley effect, less commonly called the Wilder effect, is a theory proposed to explain observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some US government elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. Instead of ascribing the results to flawed methodology on the part of the pollster, the theory proposes that some voters tend to tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, and yet, on election day, vote for the white opponent. It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections.
The Bradley effect theorizes that the inaccurate polls were skewed by the phenomenon of social desirability bias. Specifically, some white voters give inaccurate polling responses for fear that, by stating their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism of racial motivation. Members of the public may feel under pressure to provide an answer that is deemed to be more publicly acceptable, or ‘politically correct’. The reluctance to give accurate polling answers has sometimes extended to post-election exit polls as well. The race of the pollster conducting the interview may factor in to voters’ answers.
Some analysts have dismissed the theory of the Bradley effect, or argued that it may have existed in past elections, but not in more recent ones. Others believe that it is a persistent phenomenon. Similar effects have been posited in other contexts, notably the Shy Tory Factor and spiral of silence.
In 1982, Tom Bradley, the long-time mayor of Los Angeles, California, ran as the Democratic Party’s candidate for Governor of California against Republican candidate George Deukmejian, who is white (of Armenian descent). Most polls in the final days before the election showed Bradley with a significant lead. Based on exit polls, a number of media outlets projected Bradley as the winner and early editions of the next day’s San Francisco Chronicle featured a headline proclaiming “Bradley Win Projected.” However, despite winning a majority of the votes cast on election day, Bradley narrowly lost the overall race once absentee ballots were included. Post-election research indicated that a smaller percentage of white voters actually voted for Bradley than polls had predicted, and that previously undecided voters had voted for Deukmejian in statistically anomalous numbers.
A month prior to the election, Bill Roberts, Deukmejian’s campaign manager, predicted that white voters would break for his candidate. He told reporters that he expected Deukmejian to receive approximately 5 percent more votes than polling numbers indicated because white voters were giving inaccurate polling responses to conceal the appearance of racial prejudice. Deukmejian disavowed Roberts’s comments, and Roberts resigned his post as campaign manager.
Some news sources and columnists have attributed the theory’s origin to Charles Henry, a professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Henry researched the election in its aftermath and, in a 1983 study, reached the controversial conclusion that race was the most likely factor in Bradley’s defeat. However, one critic of the Bradley effect theory has charged that Mervin Field of The Field Poll had already offered the theory as explanation for his poll’s errors, suggesting it (without providing supporting data for the claim) on the day after the election. Ken Khachigian, a senior strategist and day-to-day tactician in Deukmejian’s 1982 campaign, has noted that Field’s final pre-election poll was badly timed, since it was taken over the weekend, and most late polls failed to register a surge in support for Deukmejian in the campaign’s final two weeks. In addition, the exit polling failed to consider absentee balloting in an election which saw an “unprecedented wave of absentee voters” organized on Deukmejian’s behalf. In short, Khachigian argues, the “Bradley effect” was simply an attempt to come up with an excuse for what was really the result of flawed opinion polling practices.
1983 to 1992
In the 1989 race for Mayor of New York, a poll conducted just over a week before the election showed black candidate David Dinkins holding an 18-point lead over white candidate Rudy Giuliani. Four days before the election, a new poll showed that lead to have shrunk, but still standing at 14 points. On the day of the election, Dinkins prevailed by only two points.
Similar voter behavior was noted in the 1989 race for Governor of Virginia between Democrat L. Douglas Wilder, an African-American, and Republican Marshall Coleman, a Caucasian candidate. In that race, Wilder prevailed, but by less than half of one percent, when pre-election poll numbers showed him on average with 9 percent lead. The discrepancy was attributed to white voters telling pollsters that they were undecided when they actually voted for Marshall Coleman.
After the 1989 Virginia gubernatorial election, the Bradley effect was sometimes called the Wilder effect. Both terms are still used; and less commonly, the term “Dinkins effect” is also used.
Google News Archive
7 November 1989, Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal, pg. A15, col. 1:
In Virginia, “I think a lot of people cast their votes on race, and it’s something that’s not easily measured by polls,” said pollster Brad Coker. “People are not going to freely admit they’re racists to strangers.”
The theory even has a name: “The Bradley effect,” for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a black Democrat who led in the polls in his 1982 race for governor only to lose narrowly to his white opponent, George Deukmejian.
New York (NY) Times
Andrew Young Going Afield to Run for Governor
By RONALD SMOTHERS, Special to The New York Times
Published: November 26, 1989
ATLANTA, Nov. 25 — Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta is aggressively traveling the state these days, buttonholing all who will listen to his plans for a run at the Governor’s mansion in 1990.
His associate Mr. Cooks, shying away from labeling Mr. Young a front-runner, said the poll could reflect a ‘’Wilder effect,’’ in which white voters inflate a black candidate’s acutal support because they are reluctant to admit to poll takers that they would not vote for a black.
New York (NY) Times
Will There Be an ‘Obama Effect?’
By JANET ELDER
Published: May 16, 2007
In high-profile contests where one of the major party candidates is black, pre-election telephone polls have often been wrong, overstating the strength of the black candidate. In polling circles this is known as the “Bradley effect” or the “Wilder effect” or the “Dinkins effect.” Will it also be known as the Obama effect?
New York (NY) Times
The Bradley Effect
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
Published: September 26, 2008
Now to the eponym part, introduced after Mayor Tom Bradley’s unexpected defeat in 1982. Earliest use I can find is the 1984 headline over a Times editorial, “The Bradley Effect in New Jersey.” But that was about the impact on the local ticket of Senator Bill Bradley, a politician with a negative rating so slight that he helped local candidates resist the Reagan landslide. The headline must have been a reprise of the Los Angeles race, but my search engine has evidently run out of steam. This is a job for the Phrasedick Brigade. But hold off a while; if Obama wins, the victors will gleefully toss the phrase overboard, and if McCain wins, the losers will glumly rename it the Obama effect.
A Brief History Of
The Bradley Effect
By Alex Altman Friday, Oct. 17, 2008
The theory holds that voters have a tendency to withhold their leanings from pollsters when they plan to vote for a white candidate instead of a black one. In 1982, Tom Bradley—the African-American mayor of Los Angeles—ran for governor of California. On the eve of the election, polls anointed him a prohibitive favorite. But on election day, Bradley lost to his white opponent, Republican George Deukmejian. Some experts chalked up the skewed polling to skin color.
The notion was burnished by a series of subsequent elections in which black candidates saw solid leads shrink or vanish once voters cast their ballots. In 1983, Harold Washington escaped with a narrow win in Chicago’s mayoral election after being projected a decisive victor. In 1989, Douglas Wilder held a nine-point lead on the eve of Virginia’s gubernatorial election, and won by less than one percentage point. That same year, David Dinkins’ 18-point lead in New York City’s mayoral race evaporated in the voting booths, though he still eked out a nail-biter over Rudy Giuliani.
OCLC WorldCat record
No More Wilder Effect, Never a Whitman Effect: When and Why Polls Mislead about Black and Female Candidates
Publisher: Cambridge University Press New York, USA
Edition/Format: Article : English
Publication: The Journal of Politics, 71, no. 3 (2009): 769-781
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