The death of the Bradley Effect

The results of Tuesday’s election give us reason enough to declare the Bradley Effect as outdated, wrong, and finally, dead and buried. The “Bradley Effect”, named after black California 1982 gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley, posits that a significant number of whites are secret racists, who will tell pollsters they’re willing to vote for a non-white candidate, but when they actually get into a ballot box, the lurking racism shines bubbles up and they’re unable to do so. Never mind that supposed instances of it occurring in the past are marred with bad polling; we couldn’t stop hearing about it during this past election. So I’m very thankful that it’s finally discredited once and for all.

The Bradley Effect is demeaning to everyone involved. It demeans whites because it asserts two negative things: that they are racists, and that they are ashamed racists who won’t admit it to anyone but an anonymous ballot. It is demeaning to non-whites because it asserts that there is some reason they should under-perform any other candidate solely on the basis of the saturation of their skin.

But the worst part of the Bradley Effect was that it enabled meta-racism: It allowed people who aren’t racist themselves to oppose candidacies of non-whites on the basis that others are racist and would never vote for said candidate. I heard this reasoning from a surprising number of Democrats in the early days of the Democratic primaries in reference to Barack Obama, but thankfully, they all got over it. And now that we have elected a non-white (well, non-half-white, anyway) to the highest position in the land, no one can possibly cite the Bradley Effect in good faith as a reasoning for not preferring a non-white candidate.

The next time anyone even so much as mentions the Bradley Effect, tell them to stop going on about discredited theories. Or, if you aren’t feeling quite so charitable, tell them to shut the eff up. The Bradley Effect belongs in the dustbin of history, next to trickle-down economics and National Socialism. This country will be a better place if I never so much as hear the phrase “Bradley Effect” even mentioned ever again. And I’m not the only one who thinks that.

5 Responses to “The death of the Bradley Effect”

  1. Knacker Says:

    White people are so awesome!

  2. Cyde Weys Says:

    Hrmm, well, that wasn’t quite what I was getting at.

  3. Jeff V Says:

    I can’t find it on the Washington Post’s website but some time in October I was reading the Sunday post and they had an interesting article about the death of the Bradley effect.

    The gist of it is that the % of people who answered no to the question “Would you vote for a black candidate if he was qualified and shared your views?” has gone down from about 30% (in the ’50s) to about 5% of people now.

    It’s amazing to me that 5% of our population still is racist enough to answer that question “no” but the truth is (and I’m painting with a broad brush here) that most people that racist would not be voting democrat anyway.

  4. Steve McGlamery Says:

    Hey, Ben, your Dad’s first cousin Steve here. I, too, am grateful the “Effect” I won’t name ’cause you never want to hear about it again was nowhere to be seen Nov. 5. I even read conjecture of a “Reverse-[name of that would-be CA gov in ’82] Effect, in that a few working class whites who’d been screwed under Bush didn’t want to admit to a pollster that they were gonna vote for a black, but in the privacy of the voting booth, self-interest trumped any race-based biases.

    Re: Jeff’s 5% of people saying they wouldn’t vote for a black; surveys are notoriously bad at measuring real racial discrimination–race is so visceral that attitudes don’t allign with actions. Participant observation (kinda hard when it comes to voting) is much more reliable in dealing with race. So I’d guess the % that are less likely to vote for a candidate because of blackness is still higher than we’d like to think. But, like you said, many of those were lost causes, anyway.

    Oh, and Ben, I have an ulterior motive in looking up your blog–trying to cop inauguration tickets any way I can. If you could email me (at your mom or dad’s email address, that’d be great!

  5. Ed Says:

    Let’s see, Obama is the son of a black man and a white woman. So he is in fact 50% Black / 50% White.
    Why on earth are people saying he is the first black president? Surely his 50% “whiteness” will feel racially offended by that comment, no?…
    This whole race thing is very hard to understand looking from the outside into the U.S. Why would race be an issue?
    He won the election because he opposed the previous president’s (what was his name?) policies, came up with inspirational speeches and a fresh attitude.