Sunday, September 21, 2008

Election Polls: Part 4: Race Views and Polling

Do people report their racial biases in polls? Pollsters hypothesize that poll participants who are more likely to vote based on race are less likely to answer polls.

Why? They call it the "social desirability bias." Bigots might not not want to admit their true feelings to others, or even to themselves, for fear of being judged harshly for their racial biases. Even Rush Limbaugh says he is just joking when he calls Mexicans "stupid" and tells them to "go back to their countries." He just can't admit that he is a bigot. In the same way, some people responding to polls might not admit that they won't vote for Obama because he is black, or half-black, or half-white. That's why some of them wear hoods. They don't want to be seen. Some hockey-moms don't wear hoods, but they might as well. So they just don't answer the questions at all, or if they do, they don't answer honestly.

Pollsters call this the "Bradley Effect." The effect is named for black Democrat Tom Bradley, who lost the California governor’s race in 1982 even though he was way, way ahead in the polls. Some think this happened to Obama in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary. The polls had him running ahead of Hillary Clinton by up to 13 points. Yet, when the returns came in election night, Obama lost by three points.

When looking at poll results claiming to report on racial views of participants, remember the possibility that the Bradley effect might just be slanting the results. People just don't want to report their bigoted views honestly. Imagine that. Under this theory, even if Obama leads large in the polls on race issues, the actual voting scene may be different since bigots usually don't self-identify in polls.

What about those large poll leads anyway? What should you know about margins of error and poll sizes? Stay tuned.

Source: John Ridley, Rush Limbaugh Hates Mexicans (But in a Funny Way)!, (accessed Sept. 21, 2008); Source: John Nichols, Did the Bradley effect beat Obama in New Hampshire?, (accessed Sept. 21, 2008); Subscribe to Kimberlie Ryan's Working Wellness

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