With an African-American running for president this year, there has been a lot of chatter about the "Bradley effect," allowing the media to wail about institutional racism in America.
Named after Tom Bradley, who lost his election for California governor in 1982 despite a substantial lead in the polls, the Bradley effect says that black candidates will poll much stronger than the actual election results.
First of all, if true, this is the opposite of racism: It is fear of being accused of racism. For most Americans, there is nothing more terrifying than the prospect of being called a racist. It's scarier than flood or famine, terrorist attacks or flesh-eating bacteria. To some, it's even scarier than "food insecurity."
Political correctness has taught people to lie to pollsters rather than be forced to explain why they're not voting for the African-American.
This is how two typical voters might answer a pollster's question: "Whom do you support for president?"
Average Obama voter: "Obama." (Name of average Obama voter: "Mickey Mouse.")
Average McCain voter: "I'm voting for McCain, but I swear it's just about the issues. It's not because Obama's black. If Barack Obama were a little more moderate -- hey, I'd vote for Colin Powell. But my convictions force me to vote for the candidate who just happens to be white. Say, do you know where I can get Patti LaBelle tickets?"
In addition to the social pressure to constantly prove you're not a racist, apparently there is massive social pressure to prove you're not a Republican. No one is lying about voting for McCain just to sound cool.
Reviewing the polls printed in The New York Times and The Washington Post in the last month of every presidential election since 1976, I found the polls were never wrong in a friendly way to Republicans. When the polls were wrong, which was often, they overestimated support for the Democrat, usually by about 6 to 10 points.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter narrowly beat Gerald Ford 50.1 percent to 48 percent. And yet, on Sept. 1, Carter led Ford by 15 points. Just weeks before the election, on Oct. 16, 1976, Carter led Ford in the Gallup Poll by 6 percentage points -- down from his 33-point Gallup Poll lead in August.
Reading newspaper coverage of presidential elections in 1980 and 1984, I found myself paralyzed by the fear that Reagan was going to lose.