Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Known Unknowns

I don't think the Bradley effect will be a big problem for Obama. Many Republicans are not hiding the fact that they are racists: just witness the shouted threats to Obama at Palin/McCain rallies--and the not-so-veiled Palin rhetoric of "He is not like us." The Republicans get that message, loud and clear. Far too many of the less educated voters have swallowed the rightwing propaganda whole: just witness the 23 percent of Texas voters who actually think Obama is a Muslim, despite the fact that this lie has been refuted time and time again. He is a Christian, but, as Colin Powell pointed out, "So what if he were a Muslim?" As Powell so movingly stated, Muslims are also giving their lives as American soldiers.

It is obvious to me that racism is causing a close race in an election that should have been a runaway for the Democrats. The better educated Republicans don't like to think of themselves as racists, yet the kinds of posters they favor and the e-mails they send regarding Obama all have a strong racist flavor. Many of them are dyed-in-the-wool idealogues as well, and wouldn't vote for a Democrat if their life depended on it. Fear tactics work very well on Republicans, and their party leaders have used fear-based rhetoric over and over to manipulate and control their voters. Plus, the Republicans are already using vote fraud in this election, as they did in the last two.

This election is not a done deal, and I am praying nonstop for an Obama victory. Should McCain and Palin be named the winners, I believe a new American Revolution will take place in this country, as Obama voters rise up and shout, "Oh no--we aren't going to allow vote fraud THIS time! We've had the past two presidential elections stolen from us by Republican vote manipulations -- NEVER AGAIN!" I believe most Americans are aware that the Bush/Cheney reign and policies would be continued under McCain/Palin. AND just think of the horror of having Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency! That is an intolerable thought for anyone with even a grain of intelligence.

The Known Unknowns

by Bob Herbert

The polls show Senator Obama ahead, but there is no reliable precedent for this election. There are too many “known unknowns,” as Donald Rumsfeld might have said.

The eagerness to vote is being driven to a great extent by anxiety. The financial sector, with hundreds of billions of bailout dollars from taxpayers, is trying to emerge from a state of shock. The auto industry, a house of cards for years, is in danger of collapsing. The economy is shrinking, joblessness is soaring and financial security for all but the very rich is going the way of the video cassette recorder.

An auto worker in Michigan told me, “I’m voting for my economic life, man.”

The most significant factor vying with the economy in this election is also the greatest unknown: the race issue. The election would likely be a runaway if not for Senator Obama’s race. He’s leading, but the question is whether the poll numbers accurately reflect what is going on with the electorate.

Of all the issues thrashed about in this interminable election season, the twin towers are still the economy and race.

“I am a strong nonsubscriber to the Bradley effect,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. He was talking about the frequently mentioned phenomenon in which some percentage of white respondents supposedly tell pollsters that they are voting for a black candidate and then go into the voting booth and do otherwise.

The race issue has hurt many black candidates. But there is very little evidence to support the existence of a Bradley effect, named for Tom Bradley, a black mayor of Los Angeles who, in 1982, lost an election for governor of California that he had been expected to win.

Mr. Miringoff does not believe that significant numbers of respondents are lying to pollsters because they are fearful of being seen as racist, or for any other reason. “If you actually listen to the interview process, you would see that people are extremely eager to have their views correctly recorded,” he said.

He recalled the David Dinkins-Rudolph Giuliani race for mayor of New York in 1989 in which Mr. Dinkins, who is black, only narrowly won. “We polled on the eve of that election, Monday night,” said Mr. Miringoff, “and we saw a big shift in the numbers. The race had gotten closer. Most of the polling had stopped two or three days earlier.”

There are many reasons why Senator Obama, or any other candidate, might do better or worse on Election Day than polls suggest. Respondents lying to pollsters is probably the least likely among them.

Turnout is the big wild card this year. Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll said that trying to gauge the size of the turnout and decipher its meaning “is probably the No. 1 challenge we’re looking at.”

An exceptionally high turnout probably plays to Mr. Obama’s advantage. It would indicate that large numbers of newly registered Democratic voters, including blacks and younger voters, were showing up in droves. With a better-organized ground operation than the McCain campaign, and with lots more money to spend, the Obama forces should have an easier time getting their voters to the polls.

A huge overall turnout could also be a sign that economic anxiety has become so great across the electorate that it trumps the concern that many voters might have about Mr. Obama’s race.

A potential pitfall for Mr. Obama is the danger that voters who have not expressed a preference to pollsters end up voting heavily for John McCain. Those voters could shift the balance in potential swing states, especially those states where Mr. Obama is ahead but is not polling above 50 percent.

There is some evidence that lower-educated, less affluent white voters — a group that tends to favor Senator McCain — may be somewhat more reluctant than other groups to respond to pollsters.

The Bradley effect may not be real, but race in this election looms large. The question that will be answered Tuesday is whether a bad economy looms even larger.