For the past 26 years, black candidates seeking statewide office have been seemingly threatened by the elusive “Bradley effect.” But what always gets overlooked is the fact that the only black person to ever lose a statewide election due to the so-called Bradley effect was Tom Bradley - if that is indeed why he lost.
Tom Bradley, the former mayor of Los Angeles ran an excellent campaign for the governorship of California in 1982, and he was ahead by as much as 5 percentage points in most polls. Despite garnering more than 3,750,000 votes he lost by roughly 100,000 to Republican candidate George Deukmejian. There weren’t any underhanded racial antics or nasty ads, just a policy difference on how to combat crime and a massive get-out-the-vote effort by the Republicans that proved to be the difference.
Since then, as election day nears, invariably pollsters and the media surmise that the black candidate could lose despite good poll numbers because whites polled are lying when they say they will vote for the black candidate or are undecided, when they have known all along they wouldn’t vote for a black person. This is absolute nonsense.
Of course there are whites in this country who would not vote for a black person out of a sense of fear that their perceived racial dominance is being threatened. But it is the politics of stagnation to say that every time a black person wins by a small margin or loses an election, the root cause is their race.
It’s also insulting to claim that a black person who wins has to win by huge numbers in order to be legitimately viewed as overcoming America’s race problem. When Harold Washington won the Chicago mayoral election in 1983 he was tagged with the Bradley effect. Some polls showed Mr. Washington up by as much as 14 percentage points in the city, an oddity in a three-way race. He won by four percentage points, a landslide under the circumstances.
In the case of former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, pollsters surmised that Mr. Wilder was nine points ahead in the race - again terribly odd considering that the state rarely elected Democrats to any office in 1989. Yet when he won by a slim half-percent margin due to an excellent Democrat get-out-the-vote effort, somehow, that wasn’t good enough.
Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Illinois Democrat and the first black woman elected to the Senate, David Dinkins the first black mayor of New York City, three black mayors of Atlanta, Ga., and at least 16 black members of Congress from majority white districts - many in the south - all were and continue to be saddled with this “effect.” But that doesn’t seem to keep them from winning.
Maybe the media will finally learn the biggest lesson of all: Early polls can’t be trusted and the only real poll that matters is the one on election day.