Revisiting The Bradley Effect

[Editor's note: This post was written by Arden Farhi and Jamie McGlinchy of the CBS News digital team. Also be sure to check out the video they put together below featuring CBS News' director of surveys, Kathy Frankovic.]

Twenty six years ago, then-mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley ran for governor of California. Bradley, one of the first black mayors of a major city, was leading his opponent George Deukmejian in the polls just days before the election. But on that first Tuesday in November, it was Deukmejian, a white man, making plans to move into the governor's mansion, not Bradley.

"And thus was born the Bradley Effect ... that white voters will tell a pollster one thing, and the do another," says Kathy Frankovic, Director of Surveys for CBS News.

Throughout the 1980s and up until the early 1990s, the Bradley Effect was evident in other races. David Dinkins narrowly won the New York City mayoral race in 1989 after holding a significant margin in the polls. Doug Wilder nearly lost the race for Governor in Virginia that same year even though polls had him ahead before election day.

"I personally don't see the evidence in the surveys that we've conducted that white voters are misrepresenting their point of view and their preference to pollsters," Frankovic said. "I think you have to recognize that times have changed. In the 1980s we had issues like crime and welfare that were very "racialized" issues. We were less than 20 years from the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. We were closer to the urban riots."

Frankovic also points out that Obama was a child during that era and plenty of today's voters weren't even born yet.

Recent races in which a black candidate has opposed a white candidate seem unaltered by the Bradley Effect. A poll taken in early October 2006 before the Massachusetts governor's race showed Deval Patrick leading his white opponent by 25 points. A month later, he would go on to win the election by that same margin.

"Now are there voters that are using race as part of their decision making process? Absolutely. But are they lying to pollsters about it probably not," Frankovic said.

We're sure to find out on November 4th.