What is The Bradley Effect?

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In the run up to any big election there are all manner of opinion polls that are carried out.
These opinion polls are used to measure the popularity of the various candidates and also
to give a possible idea of who is likely to win the election. Having a large number of opinion
polls conducted by different and independent institutions will in most cases give a correct
prediction of the election outcome. There are times however, when these opinion polls
indicate that a particular candidate is set for victory at the polls, only for someone else to
come and overwhelmingly defeat them on Election Day. When voting is done in such a manner
and where the person who is leading in the opinion polls is a non white candidate and the
victor in the election is a white candidate, this is attributed to the Bradley effect.

In 1982, the then Mayor of Los Angeles city, a Mr Tom Bradley decided to run for the office
of governor of the state of California on the Democratic ticket. From the onset, almost all
opinion polls came out in favor of Mr. Bradley. It was agreed among most of the pollsters that
there was no doubt as to who the winner of the election would be. Voters interviewed in the
various parts of the state gave overwhelming support to the democratic candidate. Election
night therefore came as a big shock when the Republican candidate, Mr. George Deukmejian
came out victorious. No one had expected this outcome and it came with an added twist
since the front runner Mr. Bradley was African American while the victor Mr. Deukmejian was

The supporters of Mr. Bradley have largely accepted the Bradley effect as an explanation for
the defeat of their candidate and this theory has repeatedly been used to explain election
results that do not reflect opinion polls where the front runner is not a white candidate.
Some of the reasons given for this include the fact that white voters will claim to vote for
the non white candidate in an effort not to appear racist. This has been said to be especially
prevalent when the pollsters are non white. It has also been suggested that the Bradley effect
could also be as a result of white voters who during opinion polls prefer to remain undecided
and eventually vote for the white candidate.

None of these theories is supported by any real evidence or research but are rather drawn
from the observations of several election results around the US. As such they have often been
dismissed as an excuse adopted by non white candidates in explaining their election losses. By
observing more recent elections, there are signs that the Bradley effect may be diminishing.
A number of elections that have had white and non white candidates run against each other
have mostly had the predicted outcomes as per the opinion polls. These however are still too
few to conclude that the Bradley effect is no more.

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