One Week To Go

Moments after the polls closed at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, 1982, I finished editing the lead story for the early edition of the next day's San Francisco Chronicle. The story's lede declared that Election Day exit polls showed voters had chosen Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley as California's new governor.

Under a big ole banner headline reading "Bradley Win Projected," the story ran in about 10 percent of our Wednesday papers, what we then quaintly called the "country edition," which was dispatched by trucks to exotic, far-off destinations like Oregon, Fresno and LAX.


As every California school child now knows, the late Democratic Mayor Bradley narrowly lost that race to Republican Attorney General George Deukmejian, an upset result that not only changed the course of state politics, but also generated an extended round of statistical post-mortems by embarrassed professional poll-takers (not to mention considerable breast-beating by the journalists who believed them; I name no names).

Take it from me: The exquisite brand of red-faced shame that arises from getting it flat-ass, undeniably wrong on a story informing readers that "America's first black governor" has just been elected that's published in 50,000 copies of a newspaper with a 96-point hed is unlike any other, and carries with it certain ineluctable life lessons.

Such as: Wait for the &%#@# votes to be counted, you nitwit.

So while pundits up, down and across the political spectrum, the airwaves and the byzantine byways of the internet boldly predict that Barack Obama will win the presidency next Tuesday, this chastened, ink-stained wretch will withhold bold forecasts of the future in favor of letting those pesky voters have their shot at it.

Certainly, if the polls are (ha, ha) to be believed, Obama is poised to post a solid, perhaps a spectacular, victory over flailing rival John McCain. The Democrat not only holds an average seven-point lead in national surveys, but more importantly, appears to be outpacing the Republican in every key battleground state, as shown here.

A more intriguing question that arises about Tuesday's election from that 1982 snafu is whether Obama will suffer from the so-called "Bradley Effect" slicing into his apparent lead and making the results much closer than now expected.

The Bradley Effect refers to a theory that allegedly accounts for the blunders of prominent pollsters in the 1982 race by positing that white voters misled poll-takers in both pre-election and election day exit surveys.

Wishing to avoid being perceived as racist, so the theory goes, these white voters supposedly told pollsters they were undecided, when in fact they knew full well they would never vote for the black guy, thus leading to flawed statistical models, sampling errors, and other vagaries of the public opinion trade.

Citing this theory, some current pundits suggest that Obama's election day support could actually come in as much as six or seven points less than what the polls are showing.

The only problem is, there isn't any Bradley Effect.

In point of fact, Deukmejian's narrow victory in the governor's race was guaranteed by two factors that had nothing to do with race. The first was a gun control initiative on the statewide ballot, which pro-gunners turned out in much larger numbers than expected to defeat. The second was a below-the-radar absentee ballot campaign run by the Deukmejian camp; these days, vigorous absentee and mail-in ballot efforts are routine, but in 1982, it was a campaign innovation that the pollsters simply missed.

Lance Tarrance, who was Deukmejian's pollster both in that race and in his 1986 rematch triumph over Bradley, has an excellent analysis of the polling controversy that debunks the Bradley effect here.

Bradley aside, the impact of race in a campaign with a front-runner who is African-American remains a huge and historic question mark that will not be answered until Nov. 4.

Recall that just a few days ago, as this report shows,the Drudge-to-Fox-to-McCain narrative machine tried mightily to ignite into a full-fledged political controversy the bogus story of a white, female McCain volunteer who falsely claimed to have been attacked by a large black man who carved a "B" for Barack in her cheek to punish her for working for the Republican.

As tiresome as they may be, two of the hoariest cliches in the political lexicon still remain true: a) seven days in a campaign is an eternity; b) the only poll that matters is the one on election day. You betcha.

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