Against the backdrop of Barack Obama's strong showing in
recent national general election head-to-head polls, the Pew Research
Center's Scott Keeter and
Nilanthi Samaranayake have posted a lengthy
analysis of whether polls can be trusted to measure support for African American
candidates. They provide data from a series of statewide races pitting black
candidates against white in the 1980s and early 1990s in which surveys consistently
underestimated support for the white candidates. However, they also show that polls
conducted in five races last year generally avoided such problems, while
national polls show growing willingness of Americans to support an African
American candidacy. Their conclusion:
Taken together, the accuracy of the
polling in these five biracial elections suggests that the problems that
bedeviled polling in the 1980s and early 1990s may no longer be so serious.
This change is not a result of broader improvements in the methodology of
election polling; most election polls in the earlier period were competently
done and generally performed well in predicting election outcomes.
The experience of the 2006 elections
indicates that racism may be less of a factor in public judgments about African
American candidates than it was 10 or 20 years ago.
The Pew analysis provides the most comprehensive listing I've
seen of how polls have performed in such races and is therefore well worth the
click for those scrutinizing the early 2006 horse races results.