Origin Bradley

In 1982, Tom Bradley, the long-time mayor of Los Angeles, California, ran as the Democratic Party’s candidate for Governor of California against Republican candidate George Deukmejian, who is white (of Armenian descent). Most polls in the final days before the election showed Bradley with a significant lead. Based on exit polls, a number of media outlets projected Bradley as the winner and early editions of the next day’s San Francisco Chronicle featured a headline proclaiming “Bradley Win Projected.” However, despite winning a majority of the votes cast on election day, Bradley narrowly lost the overall race once absentee ballots were included.

Post-election research indicated that a smaller percentage of white voters actually voted for Bradley than polls had predicted, and that previously undecided voters had voted for Deukmejian in statistically anomalous numbers Origin Bradley.

A month prior to the election, Bill Roberts, Deukmejian’s campaign manager, predicted that white voters would break for his candidate. He told reporters that he expected Deukmejian to receive approximately 5 percent more votes than polling numbers indicated because white voters were giving inaccurate polling responses to conceal the appearance of racial prejudice. Deukmejian disavowed Roberts’s comments, and Roberts resigned his post as campaign manager.

Some news sources and columnists have attributed the theory’s origin to Charles Henry, a professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Henry researched the election in its aftermath and, in a 1983 study, reached the controversial conclusion that race was the most likely factor in Bradley’s defeat. However, one critic of the Bradley effect theory has charged that Mervin Field of The Field Poll had already offered the theory as explanation for his poll’s errors, suggesting it (without providing supporting data for the claim) on the day after the election.

Ken Khachigian, a senior strategist and day-to-day tactician in Deukmejian’s 1982 campaign, has noted that Field’s final pre-election poll was badly timed, since it was taken over the weekend, and most late polls failed to register a surge in support for Deukmejian in the campaign’s final two weeks.[17] In addition, the exit polling failed to consider absentee balloting in an election which saw an “unprecedented wave of absentee voters” organized on Deukmejian’s behalf. In short, Khachigian argues, the “Bradley effect” was simply an attempt to come up with an excuse for what was really the result of flawed opinion polling practices.

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