Friday, October 17, 2008


There's been a lot of talk lately about the Bradley effect -- you know, the overstating of white support for black candidates in some polls -- but there seems to be a general consensus among pollsters that the Bradley effect hasn't really been seen much in elections since 1992 (or perhaps since 1989).

I guess we won't know for sure until November 4. But if that's true, why would it be? Why would white Americans have stopped lying to pollsters about their willingness to vote for American-Americans African-Americans fifteen or twenty years ago?

What occurs to me is that Rush Limbaugh's national radio show debuted on August 1, 1988. It was, of course, wildly successful, and in its wake we got a raft of radio imitators, as well as Fox News, a lot of high-profile right-wing book publishing, and a noisy online right. (And at roughly the same time, shock jocks rose to prominence elsewhere on the radio dial. Also, we had a late-1980s boomlet in "politically incorrect" standup comedy, with Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison packing halls.)

Some right-wing radio talkers were nakedly racist, but others made a point of going after prominent black (Democratic) public figures in ways that sidestepped obvious racism (though code was usually substituted). We certainly also saw that in the right-wing publishing industry -- books like The Real Anita Hill and Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson purported to be racism-free. Shock jocks and comics, of course, didn't bother to conceal their prejudices.

The point is that contempt for black public figures began to be shouted from the housetops in the media mainstream. That's true to this day.

Under the circumstances, why would anyone who owns a radio, or who can watch Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity on cable TV, think that it's not permissibile to express a negative opinion about a black politician?

So that's my theory: If the Bradley effect is dead, Rush Limbaugh and like-minded media voices killed it. Unintended consequences?

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