Saturday, November 8, 2008

Whether whites supported Barack Obama or not, they don’t seem to have lied to pollsters about it.

Mr. Obama’s election triumph on Tuesday presented no evidence of the so-called Bradley effect, in which whites who oppose a black politician mislead pollsters about whom they will vote for. Instead, national and state pre-election polls were generally accurate in reflecting voters’ preferences in the presidential contest.

“I certainly hope this drives a stake through the heart of that demon,” Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political scientist and polling authority, said of the Bradley effect.

The phenomenon is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a black who in 1982 lost the race for California governor after leading in the polls. There were similar contests over the ensuing decade in which black candidates facing white opponents had comfortable leads in polls, only to lose or narrowly win the elections.

Critics have said such turnabouts might have been largely the product of poor polling. Others have concluded that some whites, nervous about appearing to harbor anti-black feelings, in fact misled pollsters up through the early 1990s but that such behavior has faded over time.

Mr. Obama, who will become the first black president, defeated Republican John McCain on Tuesday by 52 percent to 46 percent with nearly all votes counted.

If the Bradley effect were a factor, pre-election polls should have consistently overstated Mr. Obama’s share of the vote, or understated Mr. McCain’s. Instead, most did a solid job of previewing how the vote would go, both nationally and in crucial states.

Shortly before Election Day, an NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey showed Mr. Obama ahead 51 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. The Gallup Poll showed a 53 percent to 42 percent Obama lead, while CBS News had Mr. Obama up 51 percent to 42 percent.

Web sites that combine major polls to estimate support also performed well.

Such accuracy was a relief to pollsters rattled last winter when widespread projections of an Mr. Obama victory in the New Hampshire primary were upended by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s narrow win.

“We’re getting much more sophisticated estimates,” said University of Michigan political scientist and polling analyst Michael Traugott, citing improved techniques.

Among them is the increased polling of people who have cell phones but no land lines. A Pew Research Center report in September and exit polls of voters conducted Tuesday for the Associated Press and the television networks suggest that people who have only cell phones tend to vote more Democratic than people with only land lines.

None of this means race was not a factor on Tuesday.

Whites nationally preferred Mr. McCain by 12 percentage points, while 95 percent of blacks backed Obama, according to exit polls. Seven percent of whites said race was important in choosing a candidate, and they backed the Republican 2 to 1.

Analysts said any reluctance to support Mr. Obama because he is black may have been overwhelmed this year by a desire to support the candidate people thought would fix the struggling economy. They also said the Bradley effect has faded as Americans have become accustomed to blacks winning local elections and as the 1990s’ intense focus on crime and welfare has ebbed.

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