Reading much of the analysis of the Democratic Presidential primary results after Iowa and New Hampshire it seems an overwhelming majority of the talk is on "change vs. experience" or gender and age issues. Not much is being paid attention to the 800 lb gorilla in the room — race.
If this were the Republican primary with an black male (say, Colin Powell or J.C. Watts) running, the media would be using every backhanded way imaginable to call any Republican who didn’t support that candidate a racist. You could imagine that just about every lead story would focus on "white folks voting for a black guy."
There’s a theory being bandied about in the political circles today (here, here, and here among others) that one possible explanation of why the polls leading up to New Hampshire were so far off and the results in Iowa and New Hampshire were different is to look at each state’s voting process. The polling results could have fallen victim to something called the Bradley Effect — named for Tom Bradley, an African-American Democrat who ran for Los Angeles Mayor in 1982 — polls showed him up by double digits a few days before the election but he narrowly lost. Here in NC, we saw similar results with the Helms-Gantt races. Polling in those races showed a much closer race than it eventually turned out to be. The gist of the Bradley Effect is that when surveyed, white voters will give the socially responsible answer and say they will vote for the black candidate for fear of being judged as a racist, but when they get to the voting booths, they make a different selection.
Did something similar effect Iowa and New Hampshire? Many political pundits seem to think so.
In Iowa, you must stand in a room full of people and join the group of supporters of your candidate — your choice for President is publicly known. Does the potential for ridicule or shame or even the hint of being thought of as racist by your neighbors and peers in the room with you, possibly even judging you, not push some people towards the Obama camp?
In New Hampshire, you stand behind the drawn curtain of the voting booth and cast your ballot in secret. So Democrats in New Hampshire, when surveyed can give the "politically correct" answer and say they are voting for the African-American candidate (hence the double-digit lead in the polls), then go into the voting booth and freely cast their ballot and not have to face the public scrutiny of not being considered a good liberal and vote for the black guy.
Does it explain everything from Iowa and New Hampshire, no, but it’s something to consider. It’s an interesting dichotomy to explore, and surely one that would be discussed much, much more if this was happening in the Republican primary.