Will the Bradley Effect Be Obama's Downfall?

Worries rise that Obama's 10-point lead in the polls is not enough to win.

ByABC News
October 14, 2008, 2:08 PM

Oct. 14, 2008— -- With the economic crisis center stage, Barack Obama has solidified his lead, pulling ahead of John McCain by 10 points among likely voters, 53-43 percent, in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.

But the question remains: Is that margin enough?

"We've seen these types of leads disappear at election time," said Michael Dawson, professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

The concern is particularly at play for black candidates. It is called the Bradley effect, named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, after he ran for California governor in 1982. Some pre-election polls showed Bradley with a lead of 9 points or higher; but Bradley lost to Republican George Deukmejian by a little more than a point.

As the theory goes, people lied to pollsters, saying they would vote for Bradley when they did not.

The Bradley effect could just as easily be called the Wilder or Dinkins effect.

In the 1989 Virginia governor's race, one poll showed Douglas Wilder with an 11-point lead. He ended up winning, but by less than a point. In the 1989 race for New York City mayor, one poll showed David Dinkins with a 14-point lead. He won by just 2 points.

Some analysts suggest that voters will tell pollsters one thing, because they don't want to seem prejudiced, and vote differently.

"When you are in the voting booth, nobody is there and you can express what you really believe," Dawson explained.

Across the country, many voters expect that Obama's race will be a factor in the election.

"My father is kind of a racist guy," said one voter from South Carolina. "He's not going to vote for someone who's even light-skinned."

But the Bradley effect points to race being a bigger factor. It says voters are misleading pollsters, but some experts said there is simply no reliable evidence to prove that.

"If people wanted to lie to us, it would be much simpler for them simply to decline to participate in the poll in the first place," said Gary Langer, ABC News' polling director.