The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

October 20, 2008

Will Obama suffer from 'Bradley effect'?

CHARLESTON — In 1982, Tom Bradley, a black candidate for California governor, lost the election to a white opponent despite being favored in several voter polls.

Some researchers and political pundits argued that voters misled pollsters by saying they'd likely vote for a black candidate. Yet on Election Day, they'd vote for the white candidate.

Supporters of this theory dubbed it the "Bradley effect," a belief that white voters offer inaccurate polling responses for fear they would be considered prejudiced by stating their true preference.

With Barack Obama closing the gap between himself and John McCain in West Virginia, political observers say it's hard to determine if a potential Bradley effect is at play in the Mountain State.

An InsiderAdvantage poll released last week shows McCain leading Obama by just two points here. Another recent survey, conducted by American Research Group, actually has Obama up by eight points in the state.

It's a sharp contrast from earlier projections that had McCain easily winning West Virginia, which backed George W. Bush in the previous two elections.

Other recent polls, focusing on West Virginia, show McCain leading by more than a few points.

An NBC poll released Sunday has McCain up six points, 47 to 41 percent, in West Virginia. Another poll, released Saturday by Public Policy Polling, is also favorable to McCain and has him up here 50 to 42 percent.

Nationally, a new Reuters/C-SPAN poll shows Obama leading McCain 50 percent to 44 percent.

The Cook Political Report now lists West Virginia as a toss-up state, after it was being labeled "solid Republican."

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Report, isn't sure if she believes in the Bradley effect.

"There's been a lot of debunking of the Bradley effect," Duffy said. "Good pollsters really put some questions in place to get at whether they're seeing a Bradley effect taking place. Problem is, I don't think those people are polling West Virginia. I'm not comfortable with all the polls out there."

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West Virginia
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