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The New York Sun


Bradley Effect R.I.P.

January 17, 2008

By John H. McWhorter

The data are in. White voters in New Hampshire did not pretend to be for Barack Obama and then quietly vote for Hillary Clinton. David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies has found that Mr. Obama's poll numbers before and after the voting match up. The discrepancy was in Mrs. Clinton's poll numbers: she attracted a surge of voters on top of those who had been polled.

I call that one for the black history books, even though Mr. Obama lost. It means that the Bradley Effect, named after the mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, who lost the California election for governor in 1992 despite polls suggesting he would win, "has no power here," as Glinda the good witch said about her evil sister.

The Bradley Effect, we can assume, was real then: a significant number of white voters dutifully claimed to be for Mr. Bradley on the phone with a pollster but their inner voice told them to vote for George Deukmejian when alone in the booth.

However, there was no Bradley Effect last week. We would appear to have gotten past it.

Yet if the past is any indication, the eclipse of the Bradley Effect will not make it into the history books. It doesn't fit gracefully into a guiding commitment to asserting, as one is expected to around Martin Luther King's birthday and then during Black History Month a couple of weeks from now, that "we have a long way to go."

This is the kind of thing I mean. In 1996, welfare was transformed from an openended dole into a five-year allowance combined with job training. Oped pages were ablaze with good thinking people incensed that poor black women would be sleeping on sidewalk grates.

Fast forward. Back in the day, a mantra commonly memorized was that 41% of black children were born in poverty. Today, that number is about 30%. The reason is that after 1996, the welfare rolls plummeted. Women knowing that the five-year limit was coming did what anyone would do: they got jobs, often with the help of welfare bureaucrats who formerly just handed out checks.

The number of black children in poverty had been dipping slightly since a few years before 1996—but went into a freefall exactly after 1996, and continued to.

Even in the poorest states, like West Virginia, the welfare rolls went down by as much as three quarters. It was a cultural issue as much as an economic one: the notion of welfare as normal went out of fashion. In interviews, women whose lives straddled the 1996 boundary regularly praise welfare reform. They think of their new lives as better than their old ones.

Welfare reform in 1996 was, therefore, one of the most important developments in black America since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet my sense is that few perceive it that way.

A poll as to what the most important events of black history were in the nineties would likely yield answers that will seem small potatoes in 50 years. The O.J. Simpson trial—the current aftermath: Mr. Simpson is in custody for armed robbery. The Million Man March—the current aftermath: nothing. The mainstreaming of hiphop—the current aftermath: well, some music is mainstream.

It's understandable that people tend to think of history as drama. But properly speaking, drama is only a subset of history. History is also progress of a quieter sort.

Mr. Bositis, the political and economic analyst, notes that the Bradley Effect did not affect the fate of four black politicians in 2006: Harold Ford, Jr., in his bid as Tennessee Senator, and the governorship bids of Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania, Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio, and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts.

Yes, of them, only Mr. Patrick happened to win—but whites voted for the others in the numbers they said they would, and voted for all of the candidates in healthy numbers regardless.

Even where the Bradley Effect was real, Harold Washington nevertheless won as mayor of Chicago in 1983 and David Dinkins won as mayor of New York in 1989.

And note that those two episodes, as well as the Bradley one, plus Harvey Gantt's failed bid for Senator of North Carolina in 1990, were a very long time ago now, in the era of floppy disks.

It has long been considered the height of wisdom to intone about a promising black candidate for any office in a district with white voters that what happened to Tom Bradley and a few others in the era before cell phones and ATM cards is something we need to attend to.

Well, Barack Obama has shown that it isn't, and there is all reason to assume that this will reveal itself in one primary after another.

As Stanley Crouch has written, "One should always keep a hot poker ready for the backside of injustice, but it is important to polish the crown when you've damned well earned it."

Let's polish the crown. Bradley Effect: R.I.P.

Original Source:



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