11/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Toasting Tom Bradley

How many times have you heard, when a politician is confronted with an unfavorable opinion poll, "the only poll that counts is the one on November 4" or whenever? Now pundits usually sneer at this weaseling, and indeed I have been known to sneer myself, but I wonder increasingly whether the politicians are right.

Remember 2004? Remember the exit polls? Of course you do. Remember all the discussion devoted to explaining how the exit polls were wrong - time of day, voters not wanting to admit to being Bush voters, biased samples, and so on. And, after all, the only poll that counts is the actual poll, which Kenneth Blackwell is programming, uh, sorry, counting, in his basement. So if some other opinion poll, based on some kind of sample, is different, the opinion poll must be wrong. Stands to reason.

I was reminded of this again with all the acres of blog devoted to the Bradley effect. You know, the polls may be good for Obama, but that's just because voters are saying what the poll takers want to hear ("Yes, Obama, he's the man for me", "Bush, George Bush? No didn't vote for him, whaddya take me for?"), and when it comes to the innermost recesses of a man's soul in the voting booth, the heart of darkness of millions of voters, unable to vote for a black man, will assert itself. Hey Presto, ten point leads evaporate, and California's voters make Sarah Palin, uh, sorry, John McCain, president.

All of the recent discussion I have seen on the Bradley effect has dismissed it on the basis that either American voters have matured, or that the original "effect" was not real, and based simply on poor sampling, poor campaigning, whatever.

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you will, but somewhere deep in the disturbed recess of the gut, I have a worry that the Rovian Republican machine is perfectly happy to see discussion of the Bradley effect. What if, on election night, all of the exit polls confirm all of the lead up polls since September in indicating an Obama landslide. Champagne corks are popped, aragula eaten, and then the first counts begin appearing on Fox News. Pundits are saying "tight election", battleground states are moved one by one into the red column, McCain is winning all the Bush states of 2004 and might even pick up Pennsylvania. And then it's all over, and the third Bush term is confirmed.

Suspicious? You betcha. But I reckon all over the media the left wing pundits would be rushing to nod wisely and say "Told you so, Bradley Effect". Ann Coulter would not need to say anything. Rove would be quietly opening a bottle of whisky, and toasting Tom Bradley. And all over the country Diebold voting machines would be quietly having their hard discs erased.

After all, the only poll that matters is the one you count yourself.

Count on the Watermelon Blog for conspiracy theory, uh, sorry, depressing realism.

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