(ed note, check #19, 16, 11, 4, and this one not on the list.)
‘Bradley’s narrow loss stemmed from a convergence of political difficulties for the mayor, who was then seeking to become the nation’s first African American governor, and only one of them was his race. Twenty-six years later, those engaged in that contest still differ on whether there was a Bradley effect.
More to the point for Obama, there is no evidence that one still exists. A recent study by a Harvard political scientist showed no sign since 1996 of an otherwise unexplained election day drop-off in support for African American candidates for governor or U.S. Senate.
That is not to say that race is not an issue, particularly as Obama seeks to become the first black president. Exit polls in primary states demonstrated that for many voters, Obama’s race was a stumbling block. But those voters were open about their views, suggesting that polls may be roughly accurate.
Joe Trippi, the deputy campaign manager for Bradley in 1982, thinks voter discomfort with the Democratic mayor’s race was key to his defeat but that those concerns have eased with time.
“Whatever doubts race caused 26 years ago, it doesn’t create the same level of doubt today,” Trippi said.
“Anyone who thinks it’s zero is kidding themselves,” he cautioned. “But it’s a hell of a lot closer to zero than it was. . . . I just don’t see this election as being close enough [for it] to matter.”
More than this campaign, the 1982 governor’s contest was fraught with the issue of race. It was less than a generation removed from the late-1960s riots in America’s cities, including Los Angeles, that sent fearful white voters scrambling for the suburbs. Bradley, the reserved, patrician mayor, a former police officer and city councilman, was running against George Deukmejian, the state’s Republican tough-on-crime attorney general and a former state legislator from Long Beach.
On the same ballot was a U.S. Senate race between Pete Wilson, then the GOP mayor of San Diego, and Jerry Brown, then the Democratic governor. Also on the ballot — and this would matter more — was Proposition 15, a measure that would have imposed statewide handgun registration and a freeze on new handgun sales. The candidates for governor lined up on opposite sides — Bradley supported it, Deukmejian opposed it.
Intent on brushing back gun controls, opponents of the measure mounted a massive voter registration drive to draw gun enthusiasts to the polls. At the same time, Republicans took advantage of a change in state law that allowed any Californian to vote by absentee ballot. In previous governor’s races, only those with medical needs or travel plans could vote absentee.
Lance Tarrance, who polled for Deukmejian in 1982, got it closest to right. Recently, he wrote: “[A]nalysis of the 1982 election revealed the weakness in the Bradley Effect theory as Bradley actually won on Election Day turnout, but lost the absentee vote so badly that Deukmejian pulled ahead to win. That Bradley won the vote on Election Day would hardly seem to suggest a hidden or last minute anti-black backlash.”
In fact, this reveals that Bradley’s liberal supporters had bungled an important strategic decision. In hopes of increasing Democratic turnout, they qualified Proposition 15, a hand-gun control initiative, for the November 1982 ballot. Every gun owner in California was furious.
The National Rifle Assn. endorsed Deukmejian; and the first large-scale, aggressive absentee ballot campaign was launched by the GOP.
Prop. 15 lost by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. It was defeated in every county except San Francisco and Marin. According to the California Journal, “it was obliterated in rural California,” where turnout ran about 10 percent higher than in urban areas. And the absentee ballot count was lopsided in favor of the Republican.
Tens of thousands of gun lovers registered their vote against gun control and stuck around to mark their ballots for Deukmejian.
Nonetheless, Mervin Field’s exit polling was, to some extent, accurate. Field did not account for absentee ballot voters. His survey—like the actual results—showed a Bradley win at the ballot box.
There were other factors that contributed to imperfect polling — and Bradley’s loss. A lackluster campaign led to a low-turnout election. The Democratic Party, overall, did a mediocre job of getting out the vote. Bradley was also criticized for not energizing his African-American base.
In the end, black turnout was lower than expected — the higher-turnout model used by some pollsters could have skewed the poll results toward Bradley. In addition, some exit polls, according to the California Journal, revealed that the unpopularity of Jerry Brown, the departing Democratic governor who was running against Pete Wilson for the Senate, “rubbed off on Bradley.”
A far stronger case can be made for the impact of a “Bradley effect” in the 1969 race for Los Angeles mayor — when then-City Councilman Tom Bradley first challenged the conservative Democratic incumbent, Sam Yorty. Bradley finished first in a crowded primary, with 42 percent of the vote; Yorty came in second with 26 percent.
Before the head-to-head runoff. pre-election polls showed Bradley handily defeating Yorty. Then, in what was considered a major upset, Yorty won re-election, with 53 percent of the vote to Bradley’s 47 percent. Yorty succeeded, according to his biographer, John Bollens, by “riding to advantage a wave of fear, prejudice and reaction.”
Yorty portrayed Bradley as a Black Panther supporter and depicted the former cop as anti-police. The Political scientist Raphael Sonenshein wrote, “Yorty directly exploited white fears. His campaign ads ran in the real estate section of [San Fernando] Valley newspapers showing Bradley’s picture with the caption ‘Will Your City Be Safe with This Man?’”
Bradley took “a high road approach,” barely responding. In an election with record high turnout overall, Sonenshein observed, a hefty anti-Bradley vote coming from the San Fernando Valley, and dramatic shifts in support to Yorty “among whites, Jews and Latinos, were devastating” to Bradley’s chances.
Nashville Post Politics
A man who was at Ground Zero at the birth of the phenomenon asserts it never happened:
Which Bradley ultimately did, losing by one point, with Deukmejian the victor, 49% to 48%. How could Field’s exit poll have been so wrong? It must have been racism, right?
Well, only if California voters also thought that two-term Governor Jerry Brown was black, too.
BRADLEY EFFECT. Despite the frequent pundit references to the so-called “Bradley Effect” —
the phenomena where 2-6% of white voters will purportedly lie to a pollster and claim to be voting for a black candidate when in reality they are voting for the white opponent — the “Bradley Effect” is simply a political urban legend. So says GOP political consultant Robert Wolfe, who was Southern California Political Director of the 1982 George Deukmejian (R) for Governor campaign against Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley (D). Wolfe told Politics1 that anyone who “claims there was a ‘Bradley Effect’ in 1982 has no idea what they are talking about. Tom Bradley actually beat us on election day, and by a significant margin, so there was no ‘lying’ to the exit pollsters. Deukmejian only won because of the absentee ballots. That was the first year California allowed the use of absentee ballots and that was our secret strategy. We piled up absentee ballots from Armenian Democrats, because Deukmejian was Armenian. They were not likely voters, so they were under-polled. But there were roughly 100,000 Armenian voters living just in the area around Los Angeles County — plus lots elsewhere in the state. It was that absentee effort that gave us the victory — and earned me a position in the Deukmejian Administration. If it was just the election day votes, we would have lost. The only place you would have seen any lying was among those voters who claimed they were ‘uncommitted’ but were really voting for Deukmejian. But there was really no lying with voters telling pollsters they were voting for Bradley. There just was no ‘Bradley Effect’ and people should stop claiming there was such a thing. Trust me, I was there.”
As the director of the new, critically acclaimed documentary film about the late Republican operative Lee Atwater, I am constantly asked one thing: Will the Lee Atwater playbook save McCain and Palin on Nov. 4th?
My film, “Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story,” tracks how Atwater gave the GOP a playbook that has been winning elections even after his death. His central insight was to reach deep into voters’ hearts, inflaming emotions about race and cultural symbols like the flag, guns, and elitism. He used the media as an echo chamber to push issues off the front page and make campaigns all about resentment, mockery, and fear. In the words of Atwater’s disciple Tucker Eskew, now a Senior Advisor to the McCain campaign:
Resentment became the destiny of the Republican Party.
Will this work again in 2008? Will swing state voters like those in New Hampshire forget about an ongoing global financial crisis brought on by Republican deregulation and crony capitalism, choosing to believe that Obama is a “bad guy”?
Let’s look at how it worked back in 1988, when Atwater was confronted by voter revulsion with eight years of GOP rule. Voters disliked the WASPy, elite George H.W. Bush, the ballooning Federal deficit, the Reagan/Bush administrations’s unpopular, illegal war in Nicaragua, and the covert arms sales to Iranian terrorists that Reagan had lied about on national television.
To the disbelief of both Republican and Democratic strategists, who thought the public would never swallow it, Atwater hammered Dem nominee Mike Dukakis’s little-known stance on mandatory Pledge of Allegiance rules for schoolchildren. He also talked endlessly about a black guy who had escaped from a prison furlough, vowing to make Willie Horton Mike Dukakis’ running mate. Although Dukakis was a centrist candidate who had achieved the American Dream through hard work and relentless moral integrity, Atwater successfully painted him as a dangerous, foreign-seeming liberal elitist who didn’t love America and couldn’t keep us safe. Ring any bells?
In 1988, the road to the White House took a detour through the gutter when George H.W. Bush, the father of our current President, unfairly tied his Democratic opponent,Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, to the racially charged image of William Horton, a vicious rapist and murderer.
Horton, serving life without parole, got out of prison thanks to an ill-advised prison furlough policy that Dukakis supported. The convict went on to rape a woman in front of her husband while on release.
Fair game, to a point. But Republican operatives gleefully beamed Horton’s menacing mug shot and horrific deeds into millions of American homes.
They pretended the ads weren’t racist. “The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it,” said Roger Ailes, then a Republican media operative and now president of Fox News.
It became the worst kind of racial scare-mongering, a low point in modern politics.
But 20 years later, Willie Horton has been summoned back to presidential politics – not as the frightening black rapist but as a legion of shadowy, easily demonized social outsiders.
Obama is being tied to – take your pick – Muslim terrorists, violent white hippies and even uppity “minority homeowners” who somehow, according to GOP spin artists, are among the top villains in wrecking the global economy.
And the cynical, poisonous effort by McCain backers to lay blame for the economic crisis on “minority homeowners” running amok in the credit markets is also doomed to fail.
Not only is the real culpability clear, but many of the guilty have already confessed.
No sane person believes this mass collusion and delusion of funny money was hatched by striving black and Latino families. Yet GOP attack dogs and media allies like Fox News’ Neil Cavuto have embraced that story.