News Release: Faculty Experts, Politics

Oct. 29,  2008

"Bradley Effect" Won't Be in Play for Election

In this unprecedented election, with the first serious African American contender for the presidency, much has been made in the media of the so-called "Bradley effect" – the idea that voters will tell pollsters they're voting for a candidate of color so as not to appear prejudiced, and then do the opposite in the privacy of the voting booth.

While the "Bradley effect" seeks to provide an explanation for observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in campaigns when a white candidate and a nonwhite candidate run against each other, this year is decidedly different.

"There is no 'Bradley effect' anymore. Recent data has not given any indication that this is happening and all academic data points to 'no.' Unless something really unusual or extraordinary happens between now and election day, Barack Obama should not be the victim of voters who lied to pollsters about their preferences during this election season," says Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie.

"What was true 20 years ago is not reflective of today," she says. "While there is certainly still a lot of prejudice in our society, the diversity of our country has increased and the country is younger with attitudes and prejudices that are different from a generation ago. And ultimately in this race, economics trumps prejudice."

The Bradley effect was especially cited during the New Hampshire primary when polls showed that Sen. Obama was ahead of Sen. Hilary Clinton, but he ended up losing that primary election. In that case, "the poll was sampled incorrectly and produced biased results," Gillespie says. "It's also important to remember that polls are ultimately a snapshot in time and may not reflect what people are thinking today."

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