More on the Bradley Effect

October 7, 2008

A response to my dismissal of the Bradley Effect, drawing on Nicholas Kristof’s article ‘Racism without Racists’:

In other words, it seems the only theory on the table offering an evidential basis for any sort of covert racism (i.e. not people who will openly admit they will not vote for a qualified black candidate) is aversive racism, as argued by Kristof. Ironically, Goldberg’s second “thesis” is compatible with this view: the people who are, from Obama’s perspective, problematically affected by aversive racism are Democrats or left-leaning independents who would probably, in a vacuum, chose a Democrat by a small margin over McCain, but whose aversive racist biases prevent them from doing so.

This is fine, as far as it goes. Kristof does cite a lot of good data supporting his conclusion that many whites who hold no explicitly racist beliefs nevertheless discriminate against blacks. But the distinction being drawn here – between people who explicitly rule out voting for Obama based on his race and those who are merely subconciously disinclined to vote for a black candidate – isn’t one that is relevant to establishing a Bradley Effect. A voter who would never vote for a Democrat, a voter who would vote for Obama if he were white but openly refuses to vote for a black candidate, and a voter who supports McCain only as a result of predjudices of which he is not aware are all equivalent for the purposes of this discussion, so long as they are all honest with pollsters about how they plan to vote.

Racism in general may be important, but for polling purposes it is already priced into the numbers we have, unless race is affecting what people say to pollsters. Without evidence for that there isn’t any reason to expect a Bradley Effect, and the data is at this point thin and mixed.

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One Response to “More on the Bradley Effect”


  1. […] Akhbar responded, and had some good things to say that I want to address. […]


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