James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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How many cell phone users won’t vote for a black guy?

Posted by James McPherson on October 15, 2008

I raise the above question–not a serious one–to highlight a couple of issues that concern pollsters who worry that today’s political polls may be flawed. The first is the so-called “Bradley effect,” which supposes that many people who tell pollsters they favor an African American candidate will then cast ballots for a white candidate instead.

With Barack Obama we’ve also heard discussion of a supposed “reverse Bradley effect,” which theorizes that some white people might not openly admit they’ll cross racial lines to vote, but under certain conditions (such as a compelling individual candidate or a collapsing economy while the white candidate’s party is in the White House)  will do so in the privacy of the polling booth.

Another issue, raised by the National Journal today, is related to cell phone usage. As I noted back in August when I predicted a substantial Barack Obama victory: “Many surveys rely heavily on phone interviews, which tend to underrepresent college students and techno-savvy people who rely on cell phones and/or computer phone services instead of traditional landlines. Yet those people are the ones who seem to be among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters. I would not be surprised in this election to see Obama’s numbers underrepresented by 5 percent or more in many polls.”

I actually hope the polls are screwed up (assuming my favored candidate wins, of course); maybe then journalists will stop relying so much on polling for political coverage. Unfortunately if the polls are significantly wrong, many people will suspect another culprit: voter fraud.

Conservatives are now beating a drum about ACORN–despite the facts that the voter registration problems involving signature gatherers were discovered and reported by the organization itself, that no real problem exists (after all, “Mickey Mouse isn’t showing up on election day, and states have safeguards built in), and that the ploy is an obvious Republican smear designed to harm the credibility of the organization.

As Editor & Publisher points out, it is too bad (though perhaps not surprising) that so many in the media have helped hype the story, while turning a blind eye to the type of voter problems that may have cost Democrats the presidency in both 2000 (in Florida) and 2004 (in Ohio), and which Republicans are pursuing for this election, as well. “The allegations can also help cover up actual election fraud undertaken on behalf of McCain,” author Glenn W. Smith writes, adding that the media seem to find the more common situations that limit voter turnout to be somehow less egregious than the remote possibility that someone might accidentally be allowed to cast a vote: “Exclusion is a tradition with deep roots in our cultural narratives and founding documents. Historically accustomed as we are to exclusion, maybe we don’t judge it to be news.”

As for the supposed “threat” of ACORN, John McCain characterized the organization more fairly a couple of years ago as a keynote speaker FOR the group. You can see his remarks, along with more voter fraud discussion, in the first video (from “Countdown”) below. If you have the stomach for it, the second video–with claims similar to those made in an ad that drew a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact.org, shows the new, dishonest, attacking McCain perspective. In about an hour from this writing, we’ll see which version shows up for the debate.

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2 Responses to “How many cell phone users won’t vote for a black guy?”

  1. Rich Strauch said

    As Alfred Hitchcock famously didn’t say, Suspense sells. After tonight, based on the overwhelming edge given to Obama in the post-debate snap polls, it’s pretty clear that (barring some catastrophic even) the game is over. The media will be wise not to make that point outright and continue to report on the campaigns, but only the most optimistic Republican and hopelessly pessimistic Democrat would bet against the probable outcome at this point.

    However, the business driving the media will do its darndest to keep the ball in play, to find every angle to create every ounce of suspense they can. A responsible media would see Ayers, ACORN, the “Bradley Effect” (reverse and otherwise) as the cheap sideshows they are, but the marketing folks know that using them to create even a hint that “McCain could still win this thing” (as if we haven’t all heard everything we are going to about Ayers, etc.) sells. They’ve got three more weeks of political coverage to sell to advertisers, and they have to find a way to keep viewers tuned in.

    So expect three more weeks of snake oil.

  2. James McPherson said

    Sad but probably true. It appears that almost everyone other than Sean Hannity, Fox News viewers and a few diehard PUMAs think Obama won the debate (I was a bit turned off by his chuckles, but more by McCain’s grimaces).

    To repeat something I said just over a week ago that McCain should consider, if the last two debates wouldn’t marketly help McCain: ““Live up to your motto, ‘Country first.’ Admit that your campaign is essentially defeated, and that it’s time to get to work on problems. Start talking about how conservatives and liberals can work together to solve tough problems. Note the great things about being an American, and how you’ll continue to work with anyone to make the country even stronger. Send Palin home to Alaska, tell your surrogates to shut up, and offer to turn over any money left over from your campaign to people who are losing their homes or jobs. Now that would be a ‘maverick’ thing to do. It might even restore your once positive image, and conceivably turn the election from a potential rout to a close contest.”

    I heard at least one pro-McCain commentator say much of that same thing last night. I’m not saying he should drop out or admit he’s done–just forget about the formal campaigning and turn to issues. “Suspend” Palin’s campaign, which is now drawing higher negatives than positives.

    I don’t think it will happen, of course. Thanks for the comment, Rich.

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