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Barry Kay on polling, racism and the presidential election

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Polls and the Presidential election Pt.2

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Barry Kay. Barry, one of the most-talked-about issues behind the scenes—it doesn’t get talked about that much openly on television—but obviously is racism in America. Most African-Americans and many others thinks there is systematic racism in America. How does that show up in terms of public opinion? How big a factor will it be in election?

BARRY KAY: Well, sure, there’s racism. There’s also sexism, and there’s also ageism. And I mention that because 2008 is very much a sort of a mold-breaking year. We have now, in fact, the Democratic nominee’s been determined. But during much of the season, there was sort of pioneering campaigns for a black candidate, a woman candidate, and a candidate who was older than any other candidate at the time that they would be elected president, should they be elected president—I’m speaking of John McCain here. There was a poll in Newsweek back in early May that I found interesting (I wrote a little piece, as a matter of fact, as a result of it), asking people to what extent they were influenced by these different factors. By and large the numbers of people influenced by any of these factors is relatively small. But people were asked, “Did it help or did it hurt?” And, in fact, it has, each of these factors—some people think it’s better to have an older candidate, are attracted to a candidate because they’re a woman.

JAY: There’s this thing that they call the Bradley factor, that’s people won’t tell pollsters what they really believe, ’cause they don’t want to be thought of as being racist [inaudible]

KAY: I’ll speak to that. This relates to Tom Bradley, not Bill Bradley, that some people may—you know, it comes from a sort of a more recent vintage. But just briefly, the Zogby survey found that the number of people who thought that race was a positive factor exceeded those that thought it was a negative factor. The number of people who thought that gender, the Hillary Clinton candidacy, was a positive factor exceeded the negative factor. The number of people who said whether they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate over the age of 70 or under the age of 70, that was negative, interestingly.

JAY: But now you’re dealing with polling of the whole country, where places like states like New York and California weigh in. On the other hand, as you said earlier, people don’t even want to spend presidential TV dollars in California. So when you get to some of the swing states we’re talking about, will race actually be more of a factor than maybe in a New York or a California?

KAY: For some it will. And the question, the reference to Tom Bradley, is largely—it certainly was a real factor back in the early ’80s. Tom Bradley was the then-candidate, the former mayor of LA running for the governorship of California who consistently over-polled his performance. It happened also in a Virginia race with Doug Wilder. More recently, though, and the most recent impact, was the [inaudible] Harold Ford candidacy for Tennessee, which was just in 2006. What he polled at the end of that campaign was exactly what he got on election day. And, indeed, the concern with the Bradley factor is that people—that’s not to say there isn’t racism, but the people would in fact mislead pollsters into suggesting that in this anonymous interview—they were never going to sort of see the pollster again in their lives, but in this anonymous interview they might be motivated to say they were voting for a minority candidate when they weren’t. That’s not to say there isn’t real racism, but, again, it isn’t unique to race. And, indeed, the kind of people who probably would not vote for Obama because he’s African-American by and large wouldn’t be the kind of person to vote Democratic anyway. So, yes, it’s there. I don’t think it’s a huge, overriding concern.

JAY: Yeah, our experience bore that out. We did a report from Northwest Indiana, what they call the Rust Belt—a lot of steel factories, a long-stable white working class area, primarily. And everyone predicted Hillary Clinton would win that area partly because of the race factor, and in fact Obama wound up winning Northwest Indiana. So amongst this industrial working class, it may not be a factor, as you say. In places like West Virginia, some of the south—.

KAY: Appalachia, yeah. Polling that came out of Kentucky and West Virginia showed it was real. So it does vary from place to place, and it varies, certainly, from among different segments of the population.

JAY: But you don’t see it as a deciding factor in the coming election.

KAY: Well, if the election is close enough, an election like 2000, the color of tie they wore on the debate might have made the difference. So I don’t want to say if the election comes down to a dead heat it couldn’t matter, but in a typical election there are other factors that are much more significant than that. The vacuousness, the vapidity of the electoral process, however, which you also sort of get into, absolutely that’s true, and that’s why you see candidates being marketed like detergent or breakfast cereal. And they all do that. And, frankly, if they want to win, they’ve got to do that. That’s the game.

JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about whether people are getting fed up with election campaigns or not. And is there any polling to tell us that? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Barry Kay.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Dr. Barry Kay is a Professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University. His research focuses on the topics of elections and public opinion. He is a past member of the Canadian National Election Study team, and recent publications pertain to electoral systems, public opinion polling, and the impact of single-issue interest groups. He has developed a model for projecting parliamentary seat distributions from popular vote or opinion polls, which is updated regularly and can be found at He is also a political analyst with Global Television, for their national election coverage.