By David Hill - 08/12/08 07:32 PM EDT
Experienced Chicago Cubs fans grimly await their team’s annual collapse that will rip yet another championship from their clutches. The only question in the minds of veteran Cubbies is whether the Brewers or Cardinals will deliver the coup-de-grâce. Fans at Wrigley Field lately are holding up signs with the delightful double entendre “It’s gonna happen,” a Chinese fortune cookie promise that covers everything from unexpected victory to anticipated doom.
Lately, it seems like Democrats are following suit. I expect to see “It’s gonna happen” signs and T-shirts busting out before the Democrats get to Denver. The uninitiated, naïve new Democrats today expect easy victory, but veteran Democrats seem oddly poised for defeat. I want some national polling firms to start asking the question, “Regardless of how you yourself plan to vote, which candidate — Barack Obama or John McCain — will actually win the forthcoming election?” If the sample is big enough to drill down to genuine Democrat elites — let’s say those that read The New Republic — I suspect we’ll find some doubting Thomases.
The New Republic editors recently penned a piece whose title reflects one version of the Democratic doomsayer mentality: “The Weird Persistence of John McCain.” The editors ponder the rhetorical question, “When nothing has gone right for John McCain, why can this race be so close?” Ferreting out reasons for Obama’s inability to capitalize on what they perceive as McCain fumbles, these Democratic intellectuals finger Obama’s inability to exploit economic angst. They say he fails to “articulate a consistent narrative for our economic woes.” They also contend, incredibly, that Obama “hasn’t found a clear, compelling way to explain the contours of this current crisis.” What are these people looking for? Jimmy Carter’s angst? Oddly, they seem to hold up Al Gore’s failed populism as their preferred motif for Obama. But, most of all, they seem to be counseling Obama and other Democrats to prepare for ignominious defeat at the hands of John McCain.
A second stream of doomsday donkey thinking is emanating from Democratic pollsters who are obsessed with the notion that voters are lying to poll interviewers. The phenomenon is variously called the Bradley or Wilder effect, referring to Tom Bradley and Doug Wilder, one-time gubernatorial candidates in California and Virginia, respectively, and both African-Americans who supposedly did better in pre-election polling than in the actual balloting on Election Day. The supposition is that white people say they’ll vote for the black candidate, but then fail to follow through. So if the polls say that Obama’s lead is in the low single digits, he probably will lose on Election Day because all those lying white people will eventually switch to McCain in the privacy of the polling place.
I think this whole line of reasoning is founded more in the Democrats’ pessimistic fatalism than in objective reality. First, no one has ever proven beyond doubt that the Bradley effect actually occurred as supposed. Yes, researchers have proven that interviewer effects exist, but the larger line of reasoning behind the Bradley effect is unproven. Its “proof” largely rests on negative perceptions of white people, something that comes too easily for many Democrats. And the proof, if it ever existed, is likely to be out of date. The Bradley effect theory, after all, dates to 1982. Society has changed, something the Democrats seem not to have noticed. To accept the Democrats’ theory, you have to believe that whites are racists who feel compelled to give a socially acceptable response to an interviewer. If people still harbor racist beliefs in 2008, why wouldn’t they just say they are voting for John McCain? Why would they lie? They aren’t lying, of course. The theory is just a lame excuse for “It’s gonna happen” — Democrats girding for defeat.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.