Have Voters Started to Lie Less About Minority Candidates?

Here’s a really interesting article (albeit a few months old) from the Pew Research Center that concerns a point we’ve touched on before: Minority political candidates tend to do better in pre-election polls than in the actual elections, suggesting that voters want to sound color-blind to pollsters but in fact carry a strong racial preference into the booth. The article cites one of the elections that we wrote about in Freakonomics:

Also in 1989, Democrat David Dinkins, an African American, won victory over Republican Rudy Giuliani in the race for mayor of New York by a slight two points, despite leading by 18 points in a poll conducted by the New York Observer a week before the election.

The news from the Pew Center, however, is that things may be changing, on two dimensions:

1. According to the polls cited by the article, the percentage of Americans who say they would vote for a black president is at or near historical highs; and, more significantly:

2. Based on the 2006 midterm elections, the gap between a minority candidate’s pre-election poll numbers and actual election numbers seems to have shrunk. In other words, it seems that fewer people lie to pollsters — and, therefore, that black candidates have a better sense of where they truly stand than they did in the past.

This is all written, not surprisingly, in the context of Barack Obama’s electability. If the Pew article and supporting evidence are to be believed, then the story here is substantial: If, for instance, at the end of this very long election cycle, the polls say that Barack Obama is favored by 53% of voters, then he might actually receive 53% of the vote.

(Hat tip: Maya Drucker)


ajkrik

Where to begin with this? First, polls are such crap. They're like "statistical analysis" - a fairly crude tool used to eliminate anxiety and help people who don't have a clue decide what to to say or do. They take on a significance of their own that then wags the dog (in research or politics.) Second, "race" is such BS. It was something created to justify discrimination and has become very antiquated over years of social integration and reproduction. As long as people keep asking whether we're obsessed with "race" - we're obsessed with race. Barack Obama is "black" because it serves someone's purposes to label him that way. It's just as idiotic to focus on how "unbiased" we are as to judge people by their skin color. It's very presence as a subject indicates that we continue to see people as abstractions and not as individuals.

editorguy

As a side note, if anyone wants to read the best thing written about Barack Obama that I've seen, check out Larissa MacFarquhar in the May 7 issue of the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/07/070507fa_fact_macfarquhar

kentavos

I would wonder if it's about lying or lack of participation.

Peopled that are polled aren't necessarily the same ones that will actually go and vote.

I know there is some evidence in post-voting polls that lying still occurs, but I don't believe the gap is as great.

Also, how much influence does the poll have on the voter turnout? If a week before the election a poll shows a controversial candidate leading by a 20% or greater margin, you would possibly see two types of responses.

1. Those opposed would be motivated to really crank up their efforts.

2. Those supporting would possibly place less importance on showing up, since they have such a large lead.

Of course you could also argue that those opposed might give up hope at such a wide margin and not show up.

Either way, I don't believe that people would lie to a pollster just to look less racist. Unless of course the race of the pollster played a part in their decision.

Read more...

furiousball

Polls are in that same Jeopardy! category as real estate agents, variable life insurance plans, lottery tickets - "I'll take Crap I don't need for $1000 Alex"

Do we all need metrics to establish who we tout at the water cooler but don't actually get out to vote for (that is unless we're talking about something really near and dear to our stupid hearts like American Idol)?

I'm debating on writing in Sanjaya for president.

kah

But what about hard-core Democrat voters who are the ones who actually participate in the primaries? Would be interesting if there were data on their poll-answering vs actual-voting habits.

frankenduf

I wonder how many people lie to themselves (ontological objections aside) and say they are unbiased in their presidential picks- besides, unless Hillary gets a tan, there may be no black nominee (unless there's a 12% regression in voting for women ex poll facto?!)

egretman

You got to love this country. While the Harry Potter series inculcates our cherubic youth in satanic ways. Our adults are fixated on the end of the world in the next few years as clearly documented in Left Behind series. Both books are enormous best sellers.

In the years before the end, gays can fight but not tell and white people might now be able to vote black.

It's enough to make a person take up gardening or knitting.

chancey

we had bill clinton, looked white acted half black; now obama, looks half black acts half white. this is confusing. do we vote for substance, i.e. policies or apparence? i wish the media doesn't cover so much as a black-white race, but inform voters indepth policies of each candidate.
yes, gardening and knitting, better and easier choices.

kitman

One big thing that is missing from the article is how the media portrays the candidate. Take for example the recent Republican debates. Ron Paul clearly won the debate based on polling and is the 10th most search query on Technocrati - a pretty popular guy in the blogosphere/Internet. But only the people most involved in politics are the ones who answer these surveys. The other 99.9% of the voting public decide who to vote for based on what they see on TV. None of the mainstream TV news and newspapers are devoting any time to Ron Paul or Mike Gravel for that matter. Why? Well, the media have their agenda too.

Thus, I'm hypothesizing that if the research article is extended to see (a) how much media coverage a candidate gets compared to (b) post debate polling and to (c) actual voting percentages, there will be a clear correlation between (a) and (c).

egretman

Ron Paul clearly won the debate

Yes, yes, yes. Exactly yes. And I just want to point out that Ron Paul is from Texas. That's always a plus. And that he is a LIBERTARIAN.

Note that that is not a small "l" libertarian or even a big "L" Libertarian, but rather an all-caps LIBERTARIAN. A libertarian's libertarian, so to speak. It could even be said that he is from the Austrian school of libertarianism. Dare I say Anarcho-capitalist?

Can we get kitman an autographed book? May a Freakonomics t-shirt too?

jw

I agree with most of the above comments. Polls are useless. Whenever my phone rings with "Hi, we are taking a survey", I hang up. So my opinion is not included. I don't understand people who reply to these calls - don't you have anything better to do with your time?

I have zero problem with any candidate's race or ethnicity or gender or religion. It's purely position on issues that gets my vote.

fwc

Has anyone looked at the New Hampshire primary results? Perhaps it was simply a last minute shift in women voters responding to Hillary. That's certainly possible and it's the most popular of the many, varied explanations offered, but it would be interested to understand whether there was a "Dinkins Effect."

ajkrik

Where to begin with this? First, polls are such crap. They're like "statistical analysis" - a fairly crude tool used to eliminate anxiety and help people who don't have a clue decide what to to say or do. They take on a significance of their own that then wags the dog (in research or politics.) Second, "race" is such BS. It was something created to justify discrimination and has become very antiquated over years of social integration and reproduction. As long as people keep asking whether we're obsessed with "race" - we're obsessed with race. Barack Obama is "black" because it serves someone's purposes to label him that way. It's just as idiotic to focus on how "unbiased" we are as to judge people by their skin color. It's very presence as a subject indicates that we continue to see people as abstractions and not as individuals.

editorguy

As a side note, if anyone wants to read the best thing written about Barack Obama that I've seen, check out Larissa MacFarquhar in the May 7 issue of the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/07/070507fa_fact_macfarquhar

kentavos

I would wonder if it's about lying or lack of participation.

Peopled that are polled aren't necessarily the same ones that will actually go and vote.

I know there is some evidence in post-voting polls that lying still occurs, but I don't believe the gap is as great.

Also, how much influence does the poll have on the voter turnout? If a week before the election a poll shows a controversial candidate leading by a 20% or greater margin, you would possibly see two types of responses.

1. Those opposed would be motivated to really crank up their efforts.

2. Those supporting would possibly place less importance on showing up, since they have such a large lead.

Of course you could also argue that those opposed might give up hope at such a wide margin and not show up.

Either way, I don't believe that people would lie to a pollster just to look less racist. Unless of course the race of the pollster played a part in their decision.

Read more...

furiousball

Polls are in that same Jeopardy! category as real estate agents, variable life insurance plans, lottery tickets - "I'll take Crap I don't need for $1000 Alex"

Do we all need metrics to establish who we tout at the water cooler but don't actually get out to vote for (that is unless we're talking about something really near and dear to our stupid hearts like American Idol)?

I'm debating on writing in Sanjaya for president.

kah

But what about hard-core Democrat voters who are the ones who actually participate in the primaries? Would be interesting if there were data on their poll-answering vs actual-voting habits.

frankenduf

I wonder how many people lie to themselves (ontological objections aside) and say they are unbiased in their presidential picks- besides, unless Hillary gets a tan, there may be no black nominee (unless there's a 12% regression in voting for women ex poll facto?!)

egretman

You got to love this country. While the Harry Potter series inculcates our cherubic youth in satanic ways. Our adults are fixated on the end of the world in the next few years as clearly documented in Left Behind series. Both books are enormous best sellers.

In the years before the end, gays can fight but not tell and white people might now be able to vote black.

It's enough to make a person take up gardening or knitting.

chancey

we had bill clinton, looked white acted half black; now obama, looks half black acts half white. this is confusing. do we vote for substance, i.e. policies or apparence? i wish the media doesn't cover so much as a black-white race, but inform voters indepth policies of each candidate.
yes, gardening and knitting, better and easier choices.