General Question

Judi's avatar

What's going on in the news?

Asked by Judi (37660 points ) October 12th, 2008

Today and yesterday it seems that every time I turn on CNN or MSNBC they’re talking about racism in the election and the “Bradley effect.” Did I miss something? Is Obama somehow blacker this weekend than he was last week? Why is this suddenly a news story? Is there so much less to talk about?

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11 Answers

augustlan's avatar

I think it’s just a function of the news editors way of thinking: “we’re in the endgame, every possible substantive thing has been discussed to death, now let’s examine every tiny thing we can think of to keep people watching”.

judochop's avatar

Obama’s black? What?!

Judi's avatar

exactly!

SuperMouse's avatar

I was wondering this exact thing Judi. I’m an LA girl, but I still had to look up Bradley Effect to find out what these people were referring to. Maybe it was something they clung to to keep all of us terrified citizens from staging a run on the banks.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s always been a concern. People have lied in the past on polls, and polls have predicted a higher level of support for black candidates than they received. Then again, Democrats in general suffered from the same thing.

Polling is a messy business. There are systemic reasons why you might undercount the conservative vote. Pollsters know about the race discrepancy now, and have been trying to adjust for it. They have a vested interest in being right, so people can trust them, and, more importantly, pay them to do their work.

That having been said, there is always a chance that something new might be in the mix that throws off the estimates entirely.

lapilofu's avatar

I’ve heard the Bradley Effect in discussion fairly consistently throughout this election. It maybe hasn’t been on the mainstream media until now (and you know how once the media picks up on something, they tend to kick and keep kicking until it’s dead…) but it’s always been there. But maybe that’s just because I read FiveThirtyEight.

dalepetrie's avatar

Seriously – go to www.fivethirtyeight.com, click on the Bradley Effect tag. They have thoroughly and definitively debunked the Bradley effect and shown that it hasn’t been in effect for at least a decade. Indeed, they’ve postulated (and shown strong evidence to support) that there will be a “reverse” Bradley Effect this year, due in no small part to the large number of whites who live in very conservative, very white districts who are planning to vote for Obama, but who are afraid to say so. And since the sole purpose for the existence of this website is to analyse the polls and tell us what they really mean, I trust what they are telling me.

As for why it’s the topic dujour…why is ANYTHING the topic dujour among the pundits? 3 weeks to the election, they are basically just getting around to this issue, or more accurately, they are finally re-visiting the issue (as it was brought up much earlier in the campaign).

I’ll give you an example of how the media works. This morning they did a story that went at least 5 minutes on NPR where they went to a particular county in Indiana which is considered a bellweather, in other words I think the stat was that as goes the nation, so has gone this county all but 2 times since 1896. In the end, the picture was muddled and they failed to even make a prediction.

If you followed the primaries, you’d have heard probably 2 dozen different stories about bellweather counties, all the talk about as goes x, so goes y in every election/all but # of elections since (insert arbitrary date here). Essentially it seems like there’s an entire field of media research involved in coming up with true, but meaningless statistics that seem to say something, but which have such flexible parameters that they are little more than coincidence.

As each primary date approached, the media would find another example like this and put it forth, some times the pattern stuck, some times it did not, but even if a long standing pattern didn’t stick, you know damn well that in 4 years they will just add a qualifier (i.e. if it was “every election since 1912” now it will be “in all but one election since 1912” or what have you).

The Bradley Effect (which sounds vaguely like some sort of B Grade Horror movie) is an interesting quirk that occurred what, 28 years ago at a time when there were very few African Americans in mainstream entertainment culture (outside of the sports world), which I list as of importance because it’s a visibility thing…you turn on your TV and the only blacks you see are Arnold and Willis, it’s a MUCH DIFFERENT WORLD than the one we live in today. Because even though Arnold and Willis weren’t the norm, they were THERE. They were the bellweathers of our society at the time. In the late 1960s, just over a decade before this “Bradley Effect” reared it’s ugly head, blacks were assassinated for speaking their minds, and even whites who supported black causes were assassinated. The 1970s were the decade of affirmative action, when blacks were moving into white neighborhoods, and we were learning of the existence of “white flight” to the suburbs. It took us until the late 70s/early 80s before we started to see a dampening of fear among whites as it related to blacks. By 1980 though, even though it was far less common to be treated poorly if you were white and were sympathetic to black issues, society was in the midst of a transformative period, and the majority of voters had experienced, as recenly as the previous election cycle, systematic racism.

Today, racism is almost a boutique ideology in and of itself…it exists in pockets, but to the extent that it’s at all systematic, it’s more subtle…it lies more in the realm of irrational fear, akin to xenophobia. Today most white people have black friends and co-workers, we see blacks (and many other shades) integrated in our society, and we turn on our TV and see non-whites everywhere. What’s really left are some legacy issues…there’s still a bit of systematic racism in corporate America as wage disparity still exists. And on the individual level, even a white person with black friends might on a desolate street at night, if he/she were to see an unknown person walking in his/her direction, might feel slightly more afraid that they will be accosted (maybe not mugged, but panhandled) if that person is black than if they are white. And one may argue that #1 if you live in a big city, you ARE more likely to be panhandled by a black person than a white person and #2 this is ultimately because there is still far more poverty in the black community, and as such this is more of an economic issue and indeed a safety issue than a racial issue. And of course there’s the legacy issues…whites have a 500 year head start in land ownership and inheritance…by and large blacks weren’t becoming homeowners until the 70s, which is another reason why by 1980, the Bradley Effect was still understandable.

But in 2008, white people don’t exactly go around stashing their 50 Cent and DMX CDs in a drawer whenever they have white guests over, and they’re not going to be afraid to vote for Obama, say they’re voting for Obama, wear T-shirts, put up yard signs…ANY of it. Because there just aren’t as many places in this country anymore where it’s even plausible for a person to think that if they support the black candidate, they will be shunned. And given the state of politics and the divisions between the parties, really it’s less about the candidate’s race and more about their ideology that is going to make you more or less comfortable.

Really, the biggest groups to watch for any sort of systematic “lying to the pollsters” behavior is where you find people of one ideology or affiliation living among people of the opposite belief. These last 8 years politically speaking have been the most polarizing that I’ve ever seen, sure there is historical precedent showing a time when our nation was this sharply divided, the Civil War, but most of us have not seen quite this sharp a divide before where political discourse has fallen to the level of people trying to shout over one another. In today’s world, one could make the case that if you were a liberal living in a suburb where all you see is McCain signs, you might have a bit of fear about being too vocal in your support for Obama, but #1 – the folks I know who live in the burbs have not been shy about being the only ones on the block to buck the system and #2 – that would indeed produce the opposite effect…being afraid to say you’re “for” Obama. As for being a conservative living in a highly liberal area, being afraid to voice your support for McCain, and feeling you HAVE to say you’re for Obama in order to fit in, just doesn’t happen. Conservatives are rarely all that shy about butting heads first of all, and second of all, they’ve been in the majority for so long, they by and large feel they’re right. Our culture has made it status quo for conservatives in particular to speak of their opinions as the gospel truth, no matter how poorly thought out they may be. I call that the Limbaugh Effect.

So next time you hear about the Bradley Effect, turn up your BS meter about 6 notches and realize this is just a ratings booster.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I think it’s been heating up, but came to a head with McCain’s “That One” comment and his refusal to shake Obama’s hand after the debate. The McCain rallies have begun to take on an ugly tone, with lots of hateful things being said.

The recent coverage of McCain/Palin is reminiscent of the crowds when Hitler came to power.

BBQsomeCows's avatar

In the news or the now state ‘controlled’ media? (all the networks other than Fox)

obama likely did a great job in boosting FoxNews’ ratings by telling people to ignore them

stop thinking of pink elephants

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