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THE DEAN AND THE ANTICHRIST! A fascinating piece in the Post helps flesh out the greatest race ever: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2008

Referendum on an Effect: For various reasons, Pennsylvania would have been a likely setting for observation of the Bradley Effect. Last night, Obama won the state by 10.3 points. According to the Washington Post, the pre-election polls, on average, had him winning by 7.6.

That doesn’t mean that no one lied to a pollster in Pennsylvania. But for those of you who study the way the mainstream press corps promotes favored narratives, it might be worth considering what we’ve persistently found, in the past year, when we checked out claims of this famous Effect.

Consider William Safire’s piece in the Times magazine at the end of September. Safire devoted his entire piece to the puzzles of the Effect. This was his basic exposition. Note the number we highlight:

SAFIRE (9/28/08): The root of the phrase is in the campaign for the governorship of California in 1982. Surveys up to and including exit polls reported that Tom Bradley, the first black mayor of Los Angeles, was well ahead of George Deukmejian, the Republican. But the popular mayor lost by 1.2 points. How could that happen? Speculation ranged from inaccurate sampling, to last-minute mind-changes, to latent racism, to freely lying voters, to the reluctance of those being polled to admitting a preference that may be socially unacceptable—anti-black—in talking to interviewers.

Those impressed with the Bradley effect (put ''so-called'' in front if you dispute it) point to a series of polling surprises in races between candidates of different races. In 1989, David Dinkins won the New York mayoralty with a two-point margin after polls gave him a double-digit lead; on the same day, Douglas Wilder, who had been ahead by 15 points in the pre-election weeks, squeaked through to win the governorship of Virginia by less than 7,000 votes.

Wow! Wilder had been ahead by 15 points—and he barely won! Both these claims were technically accurate—but yoked together, they formed a deception. It’s the type of deception we’ve repeatedly found when drama-lovin’ big-time pundits discuss the Bradley Effect.

It’s true—Candidate Wilder “had been ahead by 15 points in the pre-election weeks.” That was the margin in a Washington Post poll taken two weeks before the election. But uh-oh! One week before the election, the Post poll was down to eleven points, 52-41—and the Post news report said that Wilder’s lead “shrinks to eight points” if you assume “a large turn-out.” Meanwhile, the campaign of Marshall Coleman, Wilder’s opponent, “blasted the poll’s results,” according to the Post’s news report. Their reason? A Mason-Dixon poll “conducted for a number of news organizations...found that Coleman was trailing by only 4 percentage points, 48 percent to 44 percent,” the Post said.

Sad. The week before the Wilder-Coleman election, one poll said 11 points (maybe 8)—and one poll said four. Safire’s solution? The gentleman went back two weeks—and gave you a 15-point margin! But as we’ve endlessly seen through the years, this is the way your big-time scribes ceaselessly heighten their dramas.

Again: When we’ve fired up the Dell this year to check accounts of the Bradley Effect, we’ve routinely found pundits playing such games with their data.

Was there a Bradley Effect back when, in the now-famous races which gave the Effect its name? We don’t know. As we noted a few months back, there have long been alternate explanations for the polling errors in the original Bradley-Deukmejian race (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/9/08). But pundits like Safire won’t stop playing games, with this and every other topic—and some fairly nasty political games were played with the Bradley Effect when Clinton won New Hampshire this year. (Chris Matthews, come on down!)

But then, some of us are Sean Hannity now. We think this is an extremely bad way to build a progressive politics.

THE DEAN AND THE ANTICHRIST: How much racial voting occurred last night? There’s no real way to know that. But we thought Michael Ruane’s report in this morning’s Washington Post included a fascinating profile of some Tennessee voters. This material appears in our hard-copy, early-edition Post—and it can be seen on-line at this Arizona site. This material no longer appears in this form in Ruane’s on-line piece at the Post:

RUANE (11/45/08): But across the Appalachian Mountains, in the town of Leanna, Tenn., 30 miles southeast of Nashville, Obama was viewed with skepticism.

“I used to be a Democrat,” Johnny Barrett, 58, explained, standing alongside his pickup truck in a frayed Tennessee Titans cap. “I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary. But Obama’s got no experience and the Democrats have been like a pack of hyenas, jumping on (McCain’s running mate) Sarah Palin from day one.”

Still, he said, he was resigned if Obama won. “You have to go ahead and eat the cornbread and get on with it,” he said. There’s nothing you can do but give your support. It’s like a minister. You have to respect him no matter what denomination he’s from.”

By midday, a steady stream of pickup trucks rumbled into the gravel parking lot of the Leanna community center, which sits across the road from a country store called "Smoking Ed's," with a tuxedo-clad, cigar-smoking beaver hand-painted above the doorway.

One woman, Nancy Ludwig, said she believed Obama was Muslim, but worried that he was also "the Antichrist."

"It's the way he was raised," Ludwig explained. "I really don't trust him, and if he is Antichrist, they'll say anything to get into office."

Others in Leanna also harbored fears about the Democrat. "We don't even know if he's a U.S. citizen," said Tim Hurt, 27, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran.

Surely, some in Leanna also thought Obama was a Communist/socialist. Had they heard the basis for the claim? The fact that McCain supported a 35 percent tax rate, while Obama said no—39?

In many ways, this two-year campaign was spectacularly dumb. The mainstream press corps largely collapsed in the face of the gigantic dumbness—and we’d have to say that the liberal world did a poor job of driving rebuttal. The Cult of the Offhand Comment ran wild—and utterly ludicrous claims were advanced. We thought this was an utter embarrassment. But to David Broder, Dean of All Pundits, it was the greatest campaign ever seen! It was packed with “excitement” and “drama,” he said. “What a show it has been,” he enthused (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/4/08).

The Cult of the Offhand Comment ran wild. Ludicrous, pitiful claims went unchallenged. On our side, we’ve put up with some of these claims for decades. In the next few days, we’ll give cites.

By the way: How should progressives view Ludwig and Hurt? What is the shape of our politics?