Monday, November 3, 2008

The Bradley Effect, and Fear of Winning

I'm afraid of what will happen if Barack Obama loses the election tomorrow. I'm afraid Europeans will pooh-pooh our electoral system and give John McCain four years of cold shoulder. The developing world will believe that the rich, establishment party stole the election from the challenger, just as many have seen happen in their own countries. (Iraqis will celebrate, at least - they'd have a U.S. president who believes their country is worth the wait.)

It would be worse within the U.S. Many liberals, young and/or uninformed, would easily believe that the election turned on fraud. After all, they've been watching CNN and MSNBC, and Obama has this election wrapped up, right? Many journalists, believing their own trope, will also view a McCain presidency as the unwanted, illegitimate child of an electorate they don't live with. They'll keep presenting all economic news as bad news, and assume the worst for another four years. (Remember the Clinton Era? We all knew the Dot-Com Bubble was a bubble, but the media reveled in it nonetheless, and blamed no one when it burst.)

I'm afraid that my liberal friends will hate my conservative friends if Obama loses this election. After all, they love their man, and we're lukewarm about ours. Obama losing to McCain would feel like a cosmic injustice. Obama, they believe, is the greatest thing since Kennedy or FDR or Lincoln. People who project messianic hopes onto their candidate are ill-prepared for his rejection. I'm afraid Erica Jong is right, and riots would break out in college towns or major cities.

I'm afraid that many black voters, already skeptical of the system, would be completely alienated - "We told you they wouldn't elect a brother". The media would be eager to report McCain as a beneficiary of the "Bradley Effect". But the Bradley Effect is dead. Obama far exceeded his polls during the primaries against Hillary Clinton. Still, the evidence won't be able to overwhelm the "we wuz robbed" gut feeling that is so familiar to sports fans. Instead of adventures in "post-racial" America, we'd likely see a retrenchment to the narrow interest politics that have dominated black electoral patterns (and left blacks under-served) since Reconstruction.

I'm afraid to try to explain a McCain victory in any words more than "More people voted for him". After all, this is the worst environment for Republicans since 1974. He shouldn't be able to win, not if we have two balanced parties. I'm afraid the media hasn't left people with an open mind about how this election will turn out. None of the meta-narratives embraced in this campaign call for the exciting young Illinoisan to lose fairly. If McCain does win (fairly), there'll be good technical reasons: young voters didn't show up, undecideds broke for the better-known senator, etc. But it'll be hard to sell those to an audience conditioned to believe only Obama could win a fair contest.

I predict an Obama win tomorrow, in the region of 350 electoral votes. But if, somehow, the polls are all wrong, and America elects John McCain, can't we all just get along? I hope so.


Matt Marsh said...

well said all around sir.

Chops said...

WaPo confirms: the Bradley Effect did not exist in this election.