Obama’s Fate: Can Effective Mobilization Override a Bradley Effect?

As we head into the election on November 4, 2008, many people are wondering whether we will see a "Bradley Effect." Currently in national polls, Obama is leading McCain by a healthy margin. But will his race as an African American be a deterrent to his presidential ambition? Some pundits point to Tom Bradley’s run for the office of California governor in the 1980s and note that Bradley, too, was ahead by a healthy margin going into his election. But on election day and after, many white Democrats confessed that when they stepped into their voting booth, they simply ‘could not vote for a black man.’

Will there be a Bradley effect during this 2008 presidential election? Yes. I believe there will be. Older generations of Americans who grew up with the staunch white-black divisions in their personal, professional, religious and civic lives, and for whom diversity was not the norm, may find that in the final moments they hesitate notably in voting for Barack Obama. However, there is a new generation of Americans—the so-called Millenials or Generation Y—as well as those slightly older (perhaps 45-50 years old and younger), for whom multiculturalism is and has always been the norm. This younger generation grew up seeing people of diverse ethnic backgrounds in the highest positions of power throughout American society—as judges, lawyers, doctors, policymakers, professors, and businesspersons, for example. This generation, I believe, is much more "color blind" and will vote for the person they believe will best lead our country—votes they will cast irregardless of the race of each candidate. It is my belief that this generation’s voice has not been fully captured in national polls, and that this generation is so mobilized and motivated that the overwhelming number of their votes will override whatever Bradley Effect we see among older generations of Americans.

Obama realized this generational change in perspective had occurred, and as an innovative leader, he skillfully shaped his strategy in a way that has capitalized on this shift in paradigm. Was this a brilliant strategy? We will know the outcome in the near future.


Dr. Shel Leanne is author of Say It Like Obama: the Power of Speaking with Purpose and Vision (McGraw Hill, 2008 - www.sayitlikeobama.com) and President of Regent Crest, a leadership development firm whose clients come from Fortune 500 companies.

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