A Lullaby For Bradley

In response to the eyepopping polling numbers from the CBS/NYT poll, Wieland at Transparent Grid asks a very good question: can we put the Bradley Effect to bed?

My first inclination, and this may come as a shock, is to say that we can’t.  The whole point to the Bradley Effect, in principle, is that it is a nasty shock that comes despite positive polling numbers.  It doesn’t say that African American politicians poll poorly, it says they poll well and then have to face unexpected bad news come election day.  With this in mind, the death, or rebirth of the Bradley Effect can’t be fully realized until late November 4th or the morning of November 5th.

However, I also feel that it is more than possible that the Bradley Effect may not necessarily be all that significant even if it does exist in this election.

The first mitigating factor is one that I have taken to calling the Obama Effect.  I have written on this many times in the past, but the abridged explanation is: The Obama Effect is that phenomenon in which a politician (Obama here) out performs his polling data due to two prime factors.  The first is the inability of the polls to accurately measure his support (these voters don’t make it through likely filter voters, don’t have landlines, or are newly registered), and the second is an aggressive and successful ground game that maximizes participation.  In the Democratic primaries, this effect was estimated to give Obama on average about a seven and a half point advantage over his own polling.

Now, under the worst case scenario, this Obama effect would essentially neutralize the Bradley Effect.  This would be the safe way to take it.  Under the best case scenario, not only would the Obama Effect neutralize the Bradley Effect, it would still give Obama about a five point advantage over the polling.  For my continuing analysis throughout this election, I have been operating under the conservative worst case scenario.

But outside of Bradley Effects and Obama Effects, let’s take a look at the electoral map as it exists today.  Over at Pollster, we see a lot of good data, but I want you to start out by focusing on the three big numbers, Obama currently has 320 electoral votes, while McCain only has 155.

Okay, sure, Obama’s currently winning a lot of states, but some of those states have to be close, right?  Some of those states might even be within the Bradley Effect range.  Sure.  So let’s do this, let’s get rid of all the electoral votes that Obama gets from leaner states.  Bye-bye Ohio, so long New Hampshire, Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Washington.  Wow, that’s a lot of leaning territory.  That should leave Obama in dire straits, right?

Wrong.  If we only count Obama’s strong states, and all of McCain’s states, strong and leaning, Obama still outperforms McCain by about one hundred electoral votes.  In fact, at 256 electoral votes, Obama not only has a 101 electoral vote lead over all of McCain’s strong and leaning states, he’s also only fourteen electoral votes from the presidency.  That could be done with a wide variety of two state combinations, or even just North Carolina or Ohio, both of which are currently leaning towards him anyway.

The point of this little exercise is to show that even if the Bradley Effect is in full swing, Obama is still, by a wide margin, in a very strong position to win the election.  By contrast, McCain has to pick up 115 electoral votes.

So, I think it’s safe to say that whether a Bradley Effect occurs or not is something we can’t speak on until November 5th, but at the same time, unless the trajectory of this race changes in a dramatic fashion, it should be downgraded to very rare disclaimer status.

Why are we still talking about it?  Well, I think the answer to that is pretty simple.

For Democrats, we’ve had our hearts broken in the last two presidential elections, and I think we simply just don’t want to get our hopes to have them broken even worse a third time.  You see Obama running away with this election handily, and you just don’t want to believe it because you know if you do it’s going to suck that much more if he somehow loses.

For Republicans, the Bradley Effect is beginning to look like the last dwindling hope; that all of these polls are off by anywhere from 8 to 14 points.  Because if those polling numbers aren’t off by that much, November 4th is going to be a very sad day.

And for the Mainstream Media, they want a close race.  A close race generates interest.  Look, this is the Super Bowl of politics.  But just like the Super Bowl, if one team starts blowing out the other, everyone at the party starts gathering around the bowl of Chex Mix to gossip while the only two die hard fans of the teams playing stay glued to the game.  Anything to make this race appear closer than it is is a godsend to a political press corps that can see a clear blow out turning into viewers tuning in to watch something else.

4 Responses to “A Lullaby For Bradley”

  1. DrGail says:

    Like you, I’m smelling a blowout. (After watching my beloved Cubs fold like a cheap cardboard box in the postseason this year, I could use a blowout!)

    I think there’s enough doubt at this point about the Bradley Effect; first was my post here, then the research study demonstrating that the Bradley Effect largely disappeared in the late 90s (coincident with welfare reform and the decrease in violent crime), and finally a New York Times article that almost impelled me to take a victory lap.

    What you refer to as the “Obama Effect”, however, cannot be discounted. The ground organization is genuinely awesome; my husband and I have been involved in some of the canvassing and, I must say, everything has been very well organized and driven. There’s a lot of enthusiasm out there, and it has been effectively harnessed. It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of that.

  2. Dynamic says:

    While I don’t know if we’re ready to see the final end of the Bradley effect, I’m positive that you’re right about the Obama effect overmatching it by far. Both measure dissonance between polled results and the final tally, and we’ve seen the power of the Obama effect in the past during the primaries – given the higher stakes and greater prowess of the Obama campaign during the general election, I think we can expect an even greater result come November 4th.

    PS – I’ve finally made the leap over to having a blog of my own (two actually, but one is purely dedicated to rave music and thus likely of less interest to you 😆 ). I’ve already added you to my blog roll on the sidebar and was hoping you’d reciprocate. 🙂 I’m located at: http://dynamicintervention.blogspot.com/

  3. Dynamic says:

    And one last thing – Republicans want to make this election about character? Well here’s a great story about Obama’s character.


  4. Yeah, no doubt. I’ll get you on the blogroll during a slow turn tonight (probably while I’m doing my little bit of work tonight). Glad to see you finally getting something like that going. When this is all said and done, I’m going to have to get you to look at my other blog when I get it started up btw.


    I’m on hiatus now, but there’s some stuff there to divert your attention when needed. Also, after this election, I’m going to start contributing again at jayisgames.com

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