Is Obama really that likable?

J. Peder Zane | Author, Design in Nature

As his re-election hopes dim by the day, President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media take heart from opinion polls that show that while a majority of Americans are unhappy with his policies, they like him personally.

Their hope is that his Kennedy-esque charisma will enable him to best Mitt Romney, whom they insist on portraying as remote and unlikable.

All of which makes me ask: What happened to the Bradley effect?

We heard a lot about it in 2008, when the mainstream media fretted that Obama’s lead in polls might vanish on Election Day as racist Americans found themselves unable to pull the lever for a black man. Even though the president won a sweeping victory, that meme has been regurgitated ever since as an explanation for opposition to his policies.

President Obama suggested it recently on “The View” when asked if he thought the election would be tight. “When your name is Barack Obama,” he said with some humor, “it’s always tight.”

Racism is not dead; no doubt some Americans would never support a black person for president. There were not enough of them, however, to prevent Obama from winning a landslide election in 2008.

This does not mean that the Bradley effect is dead. Its premise is sound — some voters are hesitant to share their honest views with pollsters. But maybe the reason for their behavior has changed.

Perhaps some voters are loath to tell pollsters they do not like the president personally for fear of being branded a racist. In the current climate, where the charge is applied so liberally to Obama’s opponents, this may strike many people as a safe and rational course.

This theory is supported by the recent debate over gay marriage. National polls tell us that a majority of Americans support it. And yet voters in 31 states, often by lopsided majorities, have come out against same-sex marriage. My state of North Carolina — which, admittedly, is called the buckle in the Bible Belt — just approved a constitutional amendment against the practice by a whopping 61 to 39 percent.

Rick Martinez, a conservative columnist for the Raleigh News & Observer who supported the ban, said he faced a tsunami of intolerance that cast him as a “backward-thinking, bigoted, hateful, homophobic boob.”

Who needs that?

It is a testament to the great strides we have made as a nation that truly hateful expression is no longer tolerated in mainstream culture — not because the vast majority of us have learned to hold our tongues but because we reject those views. Unfortunately, practitioners of identity politics use charges of hate speech as a cudgel to silence those who have honest disagreements with them.

Perhaps, then, the president is not as personally popular as the polls suggest — ask yourself, is it even remotely possible that he is more popular than the polls suggest? Taking the Bradley effect into account, it would seem that Obama’s odds of winning re-election are even dimmer than he and his cheerleaders want to believe.

J. Peder Zane is the author, with Adrian Bejan, of “Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization.”

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