You can’t trust polls. Especially when black candidates are involved.
And that could mean big problems for Barack Obama, problems that argue for something that almost certainly won’t happen: choosing Senator Hillary Clinton for Vice President.
What is Obama’s polling problem? It’s called the Bradley affect. Rebecca Curtis describes this phenomenon in the Huffington Post:
The Bradley Effect’s named for the long-time African-American Mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, who ran for Governor of California in 1982. Election-eve, Bradley was so far ahead of his white Republican opponent that newspapers printed headlines saying “Bradley Wins!” But he lost by 50,000 votes. Why? White voters who’d claimed they’d support him changed their minds–in the voting booth.
In 1989, Douglas Wilder, the Democratic black Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia, ran for Governor, and stayed nine points ahead of white Republican Marshall Coleman all through the race. Yet on election-day, Wilder won by just half a point.
Also in 1989, African-American Democrat David Dinkins kept an eighteen-point lead over his rival for mayor of New York, white Republican Rudy Giuliani; until final tally. Dinkins squeaked by with two points.
In 1990, African-American Democrat Harvey Gantt ran against white Republican Jesse Helms for a North Carolina Senate seat. Throughout the contest, Gantt (like Obama) was predicted to win by 4-6 points. He lost to Helms by six.
Why the reversals? Some white voters lie about whom they support, so as not to seem racist. But most probably intend to vote for the black candidate, and simply, on the day of election, freak out. They feel suddenly nervous about the black candidate’s “competence,” or “experience,” and pick the “known quantity,”–the white guy.
This is scary stuff for the Obama campaign. The latest polls indicate that the race has become very tight.
Curtis goes on to argue that a counter to this effect would be the selection of Senator Clinton as VP. Curtis states:
An August Fox/Opinion poll found that Clinton’s name–(and that of no other mate)–gives Obama an 8-point boost. Obama needs the boost.
Why would the addition of Clinton to the ticket give Obama such a big boost? The answer: it would appeal to a key segment of swing voters: older white women.
A press release from AARP from earlier this month, based on a survey of voters 18 and over in several key states, noted the following:
AARP today released new research that defines critical, undecided “swing voters” in 6 key states this fall as well as the specific policy options that motivate them.
The research identifies who undecided, swing voters are –white, lower-to-middle income, older women – in six key states: Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Swing voters in the six key states are focused domestically on the economy and health care, but three-fourths (72%) believe the candidates are doing a poor or fair job of addressing these key issues.
“Undecided swing voters are older women, focused domestically on the economy and health care and do not feel that either candidate is adequately addressing these issues,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond.
There are four key words in that quote: women, older, and health care. Older women were a core Clinton support group, and health care was Clinton’s signature issue.
As I think about the campaign coverage of the past month, it strikes me that I recall little, if anything, being said about health care. And that helps John McCain, whose health care proposals are not as aggressive and universal in scope as Clinton’s or Obama’s.
Indeed, the combination of negative attacks on Obama’s character, plus the primacy of energy issues and now the hot war between Russia and Georgia, have taken away from the coverage of other domestic issues that would probably favor Obama.
So, perhaps it would be good to have Clinton on the ticket. But to borrow from the famous phrase by ex-Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, “Hillary Clinton is not walking through that door, fans.” For reasons which are discussed in more detail elsewhere, it is extremely doubtful that the senator from New York will be Obama’s running mate.
If Obama is to deal with issues such as the Bradley effect and acceptance by older women, he’ll have to figure a way to do so without Clinton by his side.