Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More on 'Race', Racism and the 'Bradley Effect'

By Ben Trott

Following on the from my post the day before yesterday, summarising Andrew Hacker’s NYRB article

A newly released poll, carried out by
Knowledge Networks on behalf of Associated Press and Yahoo!, hit the headlines yesterday (CBS News, Fox 59 (Indianapolis), Guardian). It examines the extent to which ‘race’ is likely to play a role in the forthcoming election. The full results of the poll can be read here. Looking at the raw data, as it is presented in the PDF, perhaps the most immediately striking thing is that 9% of all respondents (and 10% of White respondents) admitted that the fact that, if elected, Obama would be the first Black president would make them ‘less likely’ to vote for him. (9% and 6% respectively said it would make them ‘more likely’.) The extent to which the 'Bradley Effect' (see previous post) continues to play a role will, then, obviously be crucial.

In an
article by Nate Silver on his electoral projections website, FiveThirtyEight.com, he argued that during the Democratic Primaries, Obama in fact performed better than expected in polls, by an average of over 3%. He is sceptical that the Bradley Effect is as much of a factor as it once was. It is not, Sliver argues, that race/racism does not play a role in US elections (it does!), but ‘the Bradley Effect is not an argument about whether people vote based on race. It’s an argument about whether people will lie to pollsters.’ Regional variations, Silver argues, should be kept in mind,
‘Recall that the Bradley Effect phenomenon describes covert rather than overt manifestations of racism. It may be that in the Northeast, which is arguably the most "politically correct" region of the country, expressions of racism are the least socially acceptable, and that therefore some people may misstate their intentions to pollsters. By contrast, in the South and the Midwest, if people are racist they will usually be pretty open about it, and in the West, which is nation's most multicultural region, there may be relatively little racism, either expressed or implicit.’
Obviously, Silver is being rather speculative here, particularly in relation to the existence of racism in ‘multicultural’ regions. However, the Pew Research Centre, a Washington DC-based think tank, published a report in March 2008 documenting regional variation and a phenomenon to which Silver also refers, dubbed ‘the reverse Bradley Effect’. Silver suggest that this is when Black candidates outperform polls, perhaps as a result of Black voters being reluctant to admit to (presumed) White pollsters that they are about to vote for a Black candidate. The Pew report documents both a Bradley Effect, in states such as New Hampshire, California and Massachusetts, which have relatively small Black populations; and a reverse Bradley Effect in states such as South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia where Black voters make up a proportionally greater bloc within the electorate. Some anomalies are also noted.

But back to the Yahoo!/AP poll…

Perhaps the other most immediately striking set of statistics were the survey’s findings that 7% of respondents admitted that they would be ‘upset’ by a Black family moving in next door(!), 10% by a Black person serving as president, and an astonishing 25% by ‘Black leaders’ asking the government for equality in the workplace.

A Yahoo!/AP
article presents a much more thorough evaluation of the data and is well worth looking at. It explains that the survey found that 40% of Americans (including many Democrats and independents) hold ‘at least party negative views towards blacks’, whilst ‘more than a third of all white Democrats and independents – voters Obama can’t win the White House without – agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks’. The survey also claimed to discover that whilst plenty of Republicans held prejudices too, this was not the reason they were voting against Obama – they would not vote for any Democrat. ‘Statistical models derived from the poll’, the report said ’suggest that Obama’s support would be as much as 6 percentage points higher if there were no white racial prejudice’. Although it conceded that, ‘in an election without precedent, it’s hard to know if such models take into account all the possible factors at play.’

Part of what the pollsters claim to have attempted to do was measure ‘latent prejudices’ amongst White voters. More than 25% of White Democrats, for instance, agreed with the statement ‘if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites’. Those agreeing with this statement, perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey found, were much less likely to back Obama than those who disagreed.

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