New York, Sept.18 : Racism has come to the fore again in the United States more than four decades after blacks were granted their civil and civic rights.
Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has attracted praise for being realistic, controversy and criticism by issuing a statement that said that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama could still lose the elections because he is "black".
Sebelius has revived Democratic fears of a "Bradley effect" by suggesting that some Americans who claim to support Obama will end up voting against him because he is black.
"Have any of you noticed that Barack Obama is part African-American? "That may be a factor. All the code language, all that doesn't show up in the polls. And that may be a factor for some people," FOX News quoted Democrat Sebelius, as saying.
She was alluding to the "Bradley effect," a political phenomenon in which African-American candidates fare better in opinion polls than in actual elections. The effect is named for black Democrat Tom Bradley, who lost the California governor's race in 1982 even though he was ahead in the polls.
Currently, most polls show Obama tied with John McCain. But if there is a Bradley effect, such polls could be masking a McCain lead.
"Some voters will have told pollsters in advance that they are voting for Obama, and maybe to some degree that was their intention," said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia.
"But whatever they have said in advance, they will get in the booth and be unable to vote for the black candidate. I would expect these voters to be disproportionately, but not exclusively, blue-collar, working class Democrats and Democratically-leaning Independents," he added.
Civil rights author Juan Williams said Obama cannot go into the November election tied with McCain in the polls if he expects to win the presidency.
"Obama's got to have a buffer of 5 to 8 percentage points," Williams said. "So if you have a race in which McCain is at, you know, 41, and Obama's at 41, then imagine that really what you're looking at is McCain at 49, Obama at 41."
Not all scholars believe in the Bradley effect.
"In the early 1990s, there was a pronounced gap between polling and performance for black candidates of about 2.3 percentage points," concluded Daniel Hopkins of Harvard after studying 133 gubernatorial and Senate elections between 1989 and 2006.
"But in the mid-1990s, that upward bias in telephone surveys disappears."
Political analyst Michael Barone said the nature of telephone polling might explain the waning of the Bradley effect.
"We now have these robo-polls in which you're not responding to a person," Barone said. "If people are reluctant to tell a live interviewer they're voting against a black candidate, would they have the same reluctance on a robo-poll? It's plausible to believe they would not. After all, it's a machine."
Regardless of whether the Bradley effect manifests itself in this presidential race, some Republicans are accusing Sebelius of injecting race into the campaign.
"Governor Sebelius's remarks in Iowa City today are hurtful and divisive at best," said Caleb Hunter, executive director of the Iowa GOP.
Sabato said race is part and parcel of the campaign.
"This is sensitive stuff," he said. "I keep hearing from people that the subject shouldn't be discussed. But that's ridiculous. Sebelius is just being realistic."