Archive for the ‘Obama loss’ Category

The Election: Can the Polls Be Trusted or Will Obama Become Surprised?

October 12, 2008

By Kate Zernike
The New York Times

THREE weeks to Election Day and polls project a victory, possibly a big one, for

Barack Obama.
Yet everywhere, anxious Democrats wring their hands. They’ve seen this Lucy-and-the-football routine before, and they’re just waiting for their ball to be snatched away, the foiled Charlie Browns again. Remember how the exit polls in 2004 predicted President Kerry?
The anxiety is more acute this year, because Senator Obama is the first African-American major-party presidential nominee. And even pollsters say they can’t be sure how accurately polls capture people’s feelings about race, or how forthcoming Americans are in talking about a black candidate.

In recent days, nervous Obama supporters have traded worry about a survey — widely disputed by pollsters yet voraciously consumed by the politically obsessed — that concluded racial bias would cost Mr. Obama six percentage points in the final outcome. He is, of course, about six points ahead in current polls. See? He’s going to lose.

If he does, it wouldn’t be the first time that polls have overstated support for an African-American candidate. Since 1982, people have talked about the Bradley effect, where even last-minute polls predict a wide margin of victory, yet the black candidate goes on to lose, or win in a squeaker. (In the case that lent the phenomenon its name, Tom Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles, lost his race for governor, the assumption being that voters lied to pollsters about their support for an African-American.)

But pollsters and political scientists say concern about a Bradley effect — some call it a Wilder effect or a Dinkins effect, and plenty call it a theory in search of data — is misplaced. It obscures what they argue is the more important point: there are plenty of ways that race complicates polling. Considered alone or in combination, these factors could produce an unforeseen Obama landslide with surprise victories in the South, a stunningly large Obama loss, or a recount-thin margin. In a year that has already turned expectations upside down, it is hard to completely reassure the fretters.

Associated Press, top; Greg Gibson/Agence France-Presse

MEN OF EFFECT Former Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles, top, and former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, above, both lent their names to a voting phenomenon peculiar to black candidates. Mr. Bradley lost in a close race for governor, while Mr. Wilder won in a close race. Polls predicted that both candidates would win by large margins.