Would the “Bradley Effect” Help Clinton or Trump?
When looking at polling data and trying to extrapolate the expected results in an upcoming election, one thing that is often encountered has come to be known as the “Bradley Effect”. In 1982, former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was running for Governor of California. All of the polls showed that he was leading in the days leading up to the election. Thus, most everyone was surprised when Bradley lost. Essentially, what appears to have happened was that white voters told pollsters that they would (or had) voted for Bradley (who was African American), but when the votes were actually counted, Bradley did worse than expected due(apparently) to white voters who told pollsters one thing but did another. This phenomenon has been seen in other elections (almost always when one candidate is a minority).
So the question becomes whether the Bradley Effect might be in play in the 2016 Presidential election. And the follow-up question is, of course, who the Bradley Effect would help or hurt?
One view is that many people who plan to vote for Donald Trump don’t want to publicly admit that they will be doing so (or have already done so) because they don’t want to be labeled a “deplorable” or a racist, bigot, etc. It seems reasonable to believe that there could be many, many voters who would refuse to admit support for Trump for just this sort of reason. Similarly, I wonder about support for Trump among minorities who may be attracted to Trump’s immigration policies but who feel constrained –- by being minorities themselves -- not to be seen supporting someone who is criticized for his views about minority groups. I’m not so sure that other reasons why someone might lie about supporting Trump make as much sense or would account for too many voters. And I cannot begin to evaluate the idea that some men will proclaim support for Clinton only to decide that they really don’t want a woman as President.
Now the thing to ask yourself about these “hidden” Trump voters is whether they are telling pollsters that they are voting for Clinton, thus elevating her apparent support, voting for a third party candidate (in which case they will help Trump but not to Clinton’s direct detriment), or are included in the category of undecided voters.
Of course there is an opposite side to the Bradley Effect in the 2016 election.
Might some voters, especially women or young people, be telling pollsters that they are planning to vote for Trump because they are expected to do so based on race, locale, economics, or so forth. How many women, for example, might be planning to vote for Clinton -– either because she is a woman or because of Trump’s misogynist statements –- but don’t want to let those in their family and friend circles know because of the expected backlash they might expect? Imagine, if you will, the dinner table discussion in the home of a white, working class family, where neither the husband nor wife has a college education. In that situation, might one (or both!) of them be reticent to express support for Clinton or opposition to Trump because of concern about the spouse’s expected reaction?
It seems that passions are so high this electoral season, that it might not be surprising if people were hesitant to admit support for or opposition to one candidate out of concern about how they might be perceived by family and friends. And that hesitation might carry over in to responding to the questions of pollsters. It might even be seen in the exit polls that are reported on election night.
Two final anecdotes to add to all of this: Last night (Halloween), I sat on my driveway handing out candy to trick-or-treating kids. And I talked to parents who trailed behind their kids along the sidewalk. It was hard for them to miss the makeshift Clinton (and John Gregg for Governor) sign I’d put up in my yard (my “real” sign was stolen after being up for just five days). One man, who by application of stereotypes, I presumed would be a Trump supporter (remember, I live in a very red district), told me that he loved my sign and said that he wished that he had the “courage” (his word) to put up his own Clinton sign. What do you think he is telling pollsters, if asked? At the other end of the spectrum, another family saw my sign and told their child that she didn’t need to come up my driveway for candy. I guess they expected a Clinton supporter to try to poison their child, right?
Anyway, for two additional views on the subject, you might want to read both “GOP insiders: Polls don't capture secret Trump vote” and “How large is the “Secret Hillary Club”? Red-state women may be defying their Trump-loving husbands”.