What’s With This “Bradley Effect” Stuff?

When it comes to U.S. racism, euphemisms and wink-wink are becoming more common. We have the quaint euphemisms called the “Bradley effect” and the “Wilder effect,” which are being written about much these days because Senator Obama is the likely Democratic nominee. Why aren’t these terms called what they really are–the white-racism effect?

A wikipedia article usefully summarizes some data on this white-racism effect:

The name Bradley effect is derived from a 1982 campaign involving Tom Bradley, the long-time mayor of Los Angeles, California. Bradley, who was black, ran as the Democratic party’s candidate for Governor of California against Republican candidate George Deukmejian, who was white. The polls on the final days before the election consistently showed Bradley with a lead. In fact, based on exit polls on election day, a number of media outlets projected a Bradley win that night; early editions of the next day’s San Francisco Chronicle featured a headline proclaiming “Bradley Win Projected.” However, Bradley narrowly lost the race. Post-election research indicated that a smaller percentage of white voters actually voted for Bradley than polls had predicted, and that voters who had been classified by those polls as “undecided” had gone to Deukmejian in statistically anomalous numbers.

The article also discusses numerous similar discrepancies for black candidates, including for Douglas Wilder (running for Virginia governor), David Dinkins (running for New York mayor), Harold Washington (running for Chicago mayor), and Jesse Jackson (running for Democratic presidential nominee in the Wisconsin Democratic primary. All these candidates did not do as well as election polls or exit polls indicated they would. In all cases, the suggestion is that white voters did not wish to be seen as “prejudiced” and said they were voting for a black candidate to a stranger (a pollster) when in fact they had not intention of doing so.

The article points out a related phenomenon for overtly white-racist candidates:

Ironically, a similar phenomenon was noticed during the early 1990’s electoral contests with former Ku Klux Klan leader and Nazi sympathizer David Duke. Many potential voters would not tell pollsters that they favored Duke (as they feared the ostracization that could result from being on record as being a Duke supporter), but would go on to vote for him anyway. The commentary at that time was that Duke “flies under the radar.”

And then it summarizes a University of Washington study:

After the Super Tuesday elections of February 5, political science researchers from the University of Washington found trends suggesting the possibility that with regard to Obama, the effect’s presence or absence may be dependent on the percentage of the electorate that is black. The researchers noted that to that point in the election season, opinion polls taken just prior to an election tended to overestimate Obama in states with a black population below eight percent, to track him within the polls’ margins of error in states with a black population between ten and twenty percent, and to underestimate him in states with a black population exceeding twenty-five percent. The first finding suggested the possibility of the Bradley effect, while the last finding suggested the possibility of a “reverse” Bradley effect in which black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama. By comparison, with only one exception, in each state with inaccurate opinion polls for the Democratic contest involving Obama, those same polls accurately predicted the outcome of that state’s Republican contest, featuring only white candidates.

Nowhere in the article is the impact of most white voters having been raised in fundamentally racist society discussed, nor is there a straightforward discussion of the reason for these voting patterns being the “white-racism effect”–that is, the reality that many whites will not vote for a black candidate just because he or she is black and the fact that such a view is linked to an extensive negative racial framing of African Americans.

Indeed, the article prefers to talk in terms of “racial prejudice” and offers possible counter explanations other than “prejudice” to account for this white voting pattern. Nowhere in the article’s text do the words “racist” or “racism” appear. Once again, the author of the article tiptoes around the reality of systemic racism with the media’s sad euphemism, the “Bradley effect.”