In the wake of the New Hampshire primary, there has been much talk about the polls beforehand and where and how they had failed by predicting Obama as the winner. One suggestion tossed around is that the "Bradley Effect" (a specific example of the Social Desirability Bias
, itself an example of Observer Effect
) caused people to say they would be voting for Barack Obama because they thought the interviewer wanted them to be willing to vote for a black candidate. I see some problems with the assumptions behind this conjecture. First and foremost, there is no evidence so far to suggest that the polls were wrong, per se; they were probably right at the time they were taken. there were lots of undecideds and independents in New Hampshire. Who decided it was time to be surprised when things changed the day of?
But additionally, there is a problematic cognitive process that would have to accompany this turn of events. The first assumption here is that people associate the willingness to vote for a specific black candidate with willingness to vote for a black candidate in general. This particular assumption would be logically followed with the connection between voting for Hillary Clinton and voting for a woman in general, so it also must be assumed that those polled dependably believe that it is more desirable to be seen as non-racist than non-sexist.
This thinking also assumes that race is the only reason claiming to support Obama would appear more favorable than claiming to support Clinton. One must not forget that Clinton is widely thought of with some amount to a lot of disdain. So can we safely assume that the reason that responding in Obama's favor would feel expected by respondents has to be race?
It raises lots of questions: how much does Obama's race factor into people's thinking, compared to Clinton's gender? Are Americans more racist than sexist? Does a genuine dislike of Hillary Clinton overwhelm any such problems of race and gender? What voting patterns in general are thought of as the most socially desirable?
Of course, all of that ignores this
. Oops. So much for Observer Bias.
Update: Another possible factor
. The primacy effect is one of those things that makes you question how we as people don't just die from forgetting to breathe more often.
Labels: politics, sociology/demography