Sunday, October 12, 2008

Two Unknowns for the Election

Polling suggests that Sen. Obama has been building statistically significant leads in national polls of likely voters, as well as in a growing number of state polls. One fear among his supporters is that there will be a "Bradley effect" in this election, in reference to Tom Bradley's run for California governor. Bradley, an African-American, was up significantly in opinion polls right up to the election, and ended up losing the election. Other races between a white and non-white candidate show similar drops in actual votes compared to opinion polls. Will this be the case this year? No one can answer that question except the voters. Because of the economic mess countless American families find themselves in, if people truly feel better with Obama in control rather than McCain, will that trump any racial bias they may have for Obama? No one knows.

But one other aspect of the race that is not being talked about as much is the turnout of younger voters. The 18-28 block of voters is notoriously absent in elections. This is a group of voters that overwhelmingly support Obama. Typically these are voters who are newly registered, have never voted before, and therefore do not come up on 'likely voter' lists that are in turn used for polling purposes. There are literally multiple millions of new voters in this election, which are Democratic by something like a 4:1 margin. If they actually do turn out in large numbers, and economic conditions trump racial bias, the election will be won by Obama. If they turn out in the usual percentages (in the 25% range, for example), and there is a real racial factor, it is more of a toss-up. If there is a large turnout of young voters and a Bradley effect in the electorate, my best guess is that they cancel each other out more or less, and Obama would end up being the winner. Besides some unforeseeable event that will change the dynamics of the election, these two factors are the two unknowns that will determine the results in this historic election.

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