Are the Obama polls showing a Bradley effect?

If you’ve been following polls, you’ve probably noticed something interesting:  When people are asked about specifics, such as Obama’s performance on the economy, national security, immigration, etc., they give him very low scores.  However, when those same people are asked about Obama himself (“do you like him?”), they say they do.  He’s got very low performance scores, and very high likeability scores.

This baffles me.  To begin with, I don’t see that Obama is in any way likeable.  I recognize, however, that my dislike for him reflects a bone-deep bias for his policies, and this bias spills over into my having a distaste for the man himself.

More than that, though, I don’t understand how people can claim to like someone who is in their employ and who is doing a terrible job.  If had an employee who was burning through my money, leaving the building unlocked so that bad guys can break in, hanging around with terrorizing hoodlums, and making me sick and depriving me of the means to get well, I’d be pretty hostile towards that employee.  I’d say things like “He interviewed really well, but I can’t stand the sight of the guy now.  He’s a walking disaster.  I can’t wait until I get the opportunity to fire him.”

It seems to me, therefore, that the people polled are behaving irrationally when they grumble about this particular federal employee’s performance — a performance that affects them in significant, negative, and long-lasting ways — and then say “Oh, but he’s a really great guy.”

The only thing I can think of to account for this (to me) cognitive dissonance, is the Bradley effect:

The Bradley effect, less commonly called the Wilder effect, is a theory proposed to explain observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some United States government elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. The theory proposes that some voters will tell pollsters they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, while on election day they vote for the white candidate. It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections.

Don Quixote, by the way, who continues daily to distinguish himself as one of the smartest people I know, thinks I’m wrong.  He thinks that if there really had been a Bradley effect, it would have played out in 2008.  Instead, he thinks people really do like our President, despite being disappointed in his performance.

I continue to wonder, though.  After all, in 2008, people were buoyed up by being part of history in the making.  Also, Obama the campaigner, the blank slate who made exciting speeches about hope and change, has now been replaced by a real man, using hyper-partisanship to switch us from a mildly capitalist, individualist country into a strongly redistributionist, socialist country.  In 2012, there’s less magic to put a brake on the Bradley effect.

What do you think?  I should add that, when the real world plays out, DQ is usually right.

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  • pst314

    This sort of dissonance need not have anything to do with a racial Bradley effect: I know a number of leftists (including both open communists and crypto-communists). Many of them are affable people with whom you could have a very pleasant conversation. Like you, I find that their desire to rob and enslave me strongly affects how I feel about them, but I do know many people who do not have that reaction. I ask, “Could you remain friends in 1936 Germany with an intelligent, affable neighbor who openly and matter-of-factly wanted to strip you of your civil rights and property, and send you to a death camp? Could you like a follower of Pol Pot? Could you be friends with a Klansman?” But something gets lost when my words pass from their ears into their brains.

  • cerumendoc

    No, it think it’s this: In 1980, even with Carter’s execrable performance, he and Reagan stayed pretty close to each other in the polls.  It was only in the last ten days or so that the polls finally broke for Reagan.  I think you’ll see a fairly close tracking between Bam and Romney until the last two weeks.

  • Mike Devx

    Once you break against Obama, you’re gone for good.

    But most people who voted for Obama continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. They don’t see him as a liar and a deceiver. They continue to think he is TRYING to tell them the truth. And he’s very, very skilled at saying things in coded, slippery language. Once you’ve lost your trust in him, I think it’s easy to see through his charade.

    There also seems to be a Teflon President thing going with Obama.  That half-or-so of the public that still sort-of trusts him won’t blame him for anything.  All he has to say is “It’s not my fault”, or trot out his people to say that, and the people again give him the benefit of the doubt.  Most of us here are convinced his policies and divisive politics are to blame… but that half of the people are not with us (at least not yet).

    I don’t think you ever reach 35% of the people on either side; they’re committed to either Party.  I don’t think even Reagan ended up with higher than a 59%-41% election split, and that was a HUGE landslide.  We think Obama’s election was close, and he got 52% or 53% of the vote, so it only takes a shift of 6 or 7% in the vote to cause a landslide.

    It will be an interesting campaign.  If Romney continues to campaign well, the choice will be stark. 

  • Mike Devx

    I think the majority of people don’t really start paying attention to a presidential election until after Labor Day. What happens before Labor Day is that the themes and ideas of the campaigns get set.  After Labor Day they try to drive their points home with massive spending on campaign ads.  The mainstream media do their best to turn the middle towards their favorite liberal candidate, as they will for Obama.

  • jj

    It is interesting that his personal numbers remain pretty good.  It may well be a symptom of the pathology required to render one leftist, because the only way Barack Obama is “likeable” is if you’re lying to yourself.  His personal reality is that he’s arrogant; he is supercilious; he is incapable (as far as we can see, and as we have heard) of warmth toward those around him; he is invincibly ignorant yet quite certain that he’s right; there is no small part of him that ever deals in any shred of humility; he is racist; he is, as my mother would say, “snotty as hell;” he is aloof; he is selfish – and glories in it all.  There is nothing about this man’s personality that adds up to “likeable” – nothing.  And yet leftists have themselves convinced he’s a swell guy.  That’s the very definition of living in an alternate reality. 

  • Charles Martel

    Back in 2008 I remember a young black woman who was not so enamored with Obama saying something along the lines of, “He’s the kind of guy that sweeps you off your feet at a bar, but the next morning you say to yourself, ‘What the hell have I done?'”
    If there is any morning-after angst at having voted for Obama in ’08, some of it will result in a refusal to engage in a Walk of Shame because to do so would be to admit bad judgment. After all, the guy may be a crappy lover and have bad hygiene, but he’s as close to Prince Charming as many voters are likely to get. Those people are the hard-core skank base that will vote for him no matter what.
    Next are the voters who realize he’s no great shakes, but really don’t want to think too hard about the fact that their beer goggles were particularly thick that night. It makes you look foolish when you denigrate your one-night stand, so it’s best to put a smiley face on the experience and say, “Great guy, lousy lay.” That said, it is very doubtful that you’re going to want to sack him (in the amorous sense) twice.
    So I don’t think people’s supposed like for Mr. Brittle is going to be that big a factor.

  • MacG

    I think Charles is spot on.  Good show old Chap.

    Mike D.: “Once you’ve lost your trust in him, I think it’s easy to see through his charade.”

    I think that this is how it is for many that were liberals that have lost their trust in that paradigm.


    And next (following Charles Martel’s examples) are these voters….

    Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Penn., explained last night how unemployment could actually encourage people to vote for President Obama in order to secure welfare benefits such as food stamps.
    “Unemployment continues to drop and those people who are unemployed, they’re not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits — cut access to food stamps, cut job training,” Fattah, Senior Member of the House Appropriations Committee, told MSNBC’s Al Sharpton last night.     

  • Bookworm

    pst314:  I suspect you cannot get by basic definitional problems.  The Nazis and Pol Pot are historically designated as “evil.”  Obama is “good.”  With that “good” designation, all conflicting facts are just white noise.

    cerumendoc & Mike Devx:  You’re both echoing Thomas Lifson’s claim that only wonks pay attention to elections, right up until the month before the election, when everyone else starts tuning in.  Then it’s the serious season.

    Also, Mike, you’re in agreement with Jay Cost, who believes that 90% of the electorate is already locked in.  It’s very unnerving to have the nation’s fate rest on the 10% who aren’t paying attention. 

    jj:  I agree.  Yours is also a masterful description of our man in the White House.

    Charles Martel:  The thought of Obama and sex . . . ick.  I don’t want to go there.  If I wanted a cold fish in my bed, I’d raid an aquarium.

    Sadie:  Weren’t we prohibited from calling him the Food Stamp president?  When it comes to Leftists, sauce for the goose is never sauce for the gander.


  • Ymarsakar

    I never take a claim as true when the person making the claim cannot defend his stance. The fact that they don’t even try, speaks volumes.

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