Tracking the Race Factor

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

Author: Anthony G. Greenwald and Bethany Albertson

03/05/2008 - In analyzing polling data as the primaries and caucuses progress, we have found that race still plays a role in American politics but that it showed up in surprising ways in the tallies from some of the states holding Democratic primary elections so far this year. The so-called "Bradley effect" was first noticed by survey researchers in 1982 when black Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley had a solid lead in the pre-election gubernatorial polls, but lost a close election in California to his Republican opponent. Results from that and other races involving black candidates indicated that, for whatever reason, pre-election polling tended to overstate support for black candidates compared with their actual vote percentages.

Throughout this year's primary season, we have been comparing data from pre-election polls with actual voting patterns as revealed in exit polls to see if the Bradley effect is still operative. In research we jointly undertook last December, we analyzed data from an online test that measures unconscious or automatic preferences. On the basis of our findings, we surmised that the Bradley effect might well repeat itself in 2008. Our more recent findings, however, suggest a more complicated pattern.

Read the full analysis Tracking the Race Factor on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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