George Deukmejian

Republican Gov. George Deukmejian and his wife, Gloria, are seen at his 1983 inaugural ball. The election defeat of his 1982 Democratic rival, Tom Bradley, has been blamed, says Dan Walters, on an imaginary “Bradley effect” in which white voters were supposedly reluctant to admit to pre-election pollsters that they opposed Los Angeles Mayor Bradley, who was black.


Dan Walters
By Dan Walters
January 9, 2016 4:01 PM

  • Canards abound among out-of-state observers
  • ‘Bradley effect’ one oft-cited example
  • Latest myth deals with Pete Wilson’s 1994 election

One of the more entertaining aspects of covering California’s politics is monitoring the clumsy attempts of out-of-state pundits to explain its proclivities.

Once they convince themselves about something, they tend to ignore all evidence that doesn’t fit their theses as they trumpet their revelations to the rest of the world.

One recalls with amusement, for instance, the television talker who opined in 1988 that Michael Dukakis would win California’s presidential electoral votes because he spoke Spanish. He lost by 700,000 votes.

A classic of the genre is the “Bradley effect,” which popped up most recently in 2008 when Barack Obama was bidding to become the first black president.

He could lose, we were repeatedly told, because of what had happened to Tom Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles, when he ran for governor in 1982 and narrowly lost to Republican George Deukmejian.

This version came from the Wall Street Journal: “Pollsters look for the Bradley effect, the idea that some white voters are reluctant to say they support a white candidate over a black candidate. The phrase refers to California’s 1982 gubernatorial election, when the late Tom Bradley, a black Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, led in exit polls against white Republican George Deukmejian. Mr. Bradley lost the election. The conclusion: Some voters hid their true choice from pollsters.”

The fact is that Bradley, as the polls predicted, won among voters who cast ballots on Election Day, but Deukmejian’s camp had organized a massive mail vote campaign, using new rules written by a Democratic Legislature, that was decisive. Bradley was simply out-hustled and Obama’s win proved the Bradley effect was a myth.

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