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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)