Bradley Effect

polls lie

The Bradley effect is a theory proposed to explain observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some US government elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. The theory proposes that some voters will tell pollsters they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, while on election day they vote for the white candidate. It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections.

The effect theorizes that the inaccurate polls were skewed by the phenomenon of social desirability bias. Specifically, some white voters give inaccurate polling responses for fear that, by stating their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism of racial motivation. Some analysts have dismissed that theory, or argued that it may have existed in past elections, but not in more recent ones. Others believe that it is a persistent phenomenon. Similar effects have been posited in other contexts, notably the Shy Tory Factor and spiral of silence.

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