The Bradley effect is less commonly called the Wilder effect. It is a concept that attempts to explain the discrepancies seen in a voter’s opinion. It reflects the differences between polls and outcomes in elections where white candidates campaign against minority candidates. Supporters of the Bradley effect believe that some voters tell pollsters that they are likely to vote for minority candidates. In reality, these voters will vote against the minority candidate on the day of the election.


The Bradley effect is a theory concerning the discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes. The Bradley effect can commonly be seen in United States government elections. Here, a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. The theory proposes that the voters who intend to vote for the white candidate would tell pollsters that they are likely to vote for the non-white candidate.

It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. He was an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor’s race. He lost it despite the fact that he was ahead in the voter polls going in the elections.

The Bradley effect suggests that inaccuracy in the polls was seen by the phenomenon of social desirability bias. In social science research, social desirability bias is a type of response bias. It is the tendency of a person to answer the question in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. In other words, to answer a question in such a manner that it will be acceptable to others.

Some voters give inaccurate polling responses out of fear. They fear that if they state their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism. They think that people will criticize them for racial motivation.

The unwillingness to give accurate polling answers has sometimes extended to post-election exit polls. An exit poll is a poll of voters that is taken immediately after they have exited the poll stations. The race of the pollster conducting the interview may also factor the answers of voters. A pollster is the one who conducts a poll.

Some analysts have also rejected the theory of the Bradley effect. They have even argued that it may have existed in past elections, but not in the recent ones. They give the example when Barack Obama was elected and re-elected as the President of the United States in 2008 and 2012. Some believe that it is a persistent phenomenon.


The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama brought an increased level of scrutiny in the Bradley effect. There, the observers searched for signs of the effect. They compared Obama’s polling numbers to the actual election results during the primary elections.

After this, a victorious showing was held in the Iowa caucuses. Iowa caucuses were the caucuses of the Iowa Democratic Party. A caucus is a meeting of the supporters or members of a specific political party.

In Iowa caucuses, the votes were cast publicly. Polls predicted that Obama would also win the New Hampshire Democratic primary election. He was thought to win by a large margin over Hillary Clinton, a white senator.

However, Clinton defeated Obama by three points in New Hampshire where the votes were cast secretly. This brought suggestions by some analysts that the Bradley effect might have been at work.

Some analysts cast doubt on this hypothesis. They said that the polls underestimated Clinton and also overestimated Obama. Clinton may have also been said to be benefited as she was listed ahead of Obama on every ballot. A ballot is a device that is used to cast votes.

Denying the existence of the Bradley Effect does not mean to disagree that some people vote on the basis of race. There is no doubt that some people might have voted against Barack Obama because he is black. But on the other side, some people will have voted for Barack Obama because he is black.

The Bradley Effect is not an argument on whether people vote based on race or not. It is an argument about whether people lie to pollsters or not. It is also not clear the discrepancies in the exit polls have anything to do with the race.

John Kerry also underperformed his exit polls. It is very tiresome to conduct an exit poll. It needs to involve a bunch of college kids and some workers. They are seen running around outside a polling place with clipboards in their hands. They have to pass out survey forms to every voter who leaves the ballot booth. This is not as easy as it sounds. It introduces a lot of human error and other forms of sample bias. For the given reasons, exit polls are not really used so frequently.

Greenwald and Albertson’s studies

Greenwald and Albertson in their studies found a very different point. They said that the Bradley effect was only seen in three states namely,

  • California
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island.

However, they also found a reverse Bradley effect in 12 primary states. Albertson and Greenwald believed that the errors in the polls are being driven by social pressures. These social pressures can operate when voters are contacted by telephone prior to an election. They both said that polls from states in the Southeast predicted a large black vote for Obama. These states had a much weaker white vote. Also, in some Southeast states, the exit polls showed that both whites and blacks gave more votes to Obama. The votes were more than the ones that were predicted by pre-election polls.

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