In his column yesterday on the Pennsylvania primary, Robert Novak attributes the difference between exit polls giving Mrs. Clinton a 3.6 point lead over Senator Obama and the final result yielding a margin of 9.4% to the “Bradley effect:”
Prominent Democrats only whisper when they compare Obama’s experience, the first African American with a serious chance to be president, with what happened to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley a quarter-century ago. In 1982, exit polls showed Bradley, who was black, ahead in the race for governor of California, but he ultimately lost to Republican George Deukmejian. Pollster John Zogby (who predicted Clinton’s double-digit win Tuesday) said what practicing Democrats would not: “I think voters face to face are not willing to say they would oppose an African American candidate.”
We may have seen something similar in the most recent national elections in Germany, yet involving a female as opposed to an African-American candidate. In polls leading up to the September 2005 balloting, the coalition (CDU/CSU) lead by Angela Merkel was running about ten points ahead of the incumbent SPD, but when people voted, this coalition won by just over 1% of the party vote, requiring her to form a Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats.
To be sure, a number of factors were at play in that election, including Mrs. Merkel’s own gaffes and effective last-minuted campaigning by then-Chancellor Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, but I wonder if some Germans were reluctant to admit to pollsters they didn’t want a woman heading their nation’s government.
There have been a number of female heads of government and heads of state around the world, notably the UK’s Margaret Thatcher, but very few of them (including that great lady and Mrs. Merkel) won a direct national election where people voted for them (as opposed to voting for their party or regional representative(s)). When elected president of Iceland in 1980, VigdÃs FinnbogadÃ³ttir “was the first woman in the world . . . elected a constitutional Head of State.” The Philippines have elected two female presidents (Corazon Aquino and incumbent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo).
I don’t know if FinnbogadÃ³ttir’s tally on election day in 1980 was less than her lead in the polls or if they even have polls in that Nordic (one could say Scandinavian) nation.
This all leads me to wonder if Mrs. Clinton somehow manages to win her party’s nomination, would there be a “Merkel effect” this fall and she not do as well on Election Day as she had done in the polls, merely because some people were uncomfortable with the idea of a female Chief Executive?
I just wish Margaret Thatcher were a few years younger and we could amend the Constitution allowing former female British Prime Ministers to stand for election as President of the United States.
We might better be able to test this theory with a woman who is a proven leader.