The Bradley Effect and the Spiral of Silence

A few days ago I wrote about a phenomenon known as the Streisand Effect. According to Wikipedia, the Streisand Effect is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, they are significantly more motivated to access and spread that information.

After that post, my wife told me about something known as the Bradley Effect.

According to Wikipedia, the Bradley effect (less commonly the Wilder effect) is a theory concerning observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some United States government elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. The theory proposes that some white voters who intend to vote for the white candidate would nonetheless tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for the non-white candidate. It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections.

The Bradley effect posits that the inaccurate polls were skewed by the phenomenon of social desirability bias. Specifically, some voters give inaccurate polling responses for fear that, by stating their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism of racial motivation. Members of the public may feel under pressure to provide an answer that is deemed to be more publicly acceptable, or ‘politically correct’. The reluctance to give accurate polling answers has sometimes extended to post-election exit polls as well. The race of the pollster conducting the interview may factor into voters’ answers.

I’m surprised that the effect only applies to white vs non-white election. It seems to me that some people may not admit to planning for a candidate who may have some undesirable personal characteristics, but nonetheless, the voter may agree with the candidate’s platform.

Anyway, while I was reading about the Bradley Effect, I came across another interesting phenomenon known as the Spiral of Silence.

The spiral of silence theory is a political science and mass communication theory proposed by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann.

The spiral model is used to visually describe the theory. An individual is more likely to go down the spiral if his or her opinion does not conform with the perceived majority opinion. The following steps summarize how the process works:

  1. The model begins with individuals’ inherent desire to blend with society. The fear of social isolation is necessary for the spiral to occur.
  2. Individuals who notice that their personal opinion is spreading will voice this opinion confidently in public. On the other hand, individuals who notice that their opinions are losing ground will be inclined to adopt a more reserved attitude when expressing their opinions in public.
  3. Representatives of the spreading opinion talk quite a lot while the representatives of the second opinion remain silent. An opinion that is being reinforced in this way appears stronger than it really is, while an opinion suppressed will seem to be weaker than it really is.
  4. The result is a spiral process that prompts other individuals to perceive the changes in opinion and follow suit until one opinion has become established as the prevailing attitude while the other opinion will be pushed back and rejected by most. The end of the spiral refers to the number of people who are not publicly expressing their opinions, due to the fear of isolation.

This theory seems to suggest that people need to voice their opinion, whether or not they believe it is a minority position. Otherwise, the squeaky wheel gets the grease; those who are not shy about voicing their opinion may be able to persuade people that their opinion is the majority opinion.

While reading about the Spiral of Silence, it reminded me of the following quote from Edmund Burke:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

So stand up, and let your voice be heard. And so that I can practice what I preach, let me just publicly state that I am voting for the Biden-Harris ticket. I am sure this does not come as a surprise to most people that know me…

And in keeping with yesterday’s post, This Is What Good Neighbors Look Like, let’s treat each other with respect, even if we have a difference of opinion regarding the election…

*image from Sarah J. Gibson

50 thoughts on “The Bradley Effect and the Spiral of Silence

  1. What about the Spiraling Out of Control theory? This is where two parties say so many mean, nasty things about each other, that the whole of society seems to spiral out of control. Riots break out. Nothing gets accomplished in Washington. And everybody is accusing each other of all kinds of things.

    You and I are not in agreement on this Spiral of Silence theory. I say, keep quiet everyone. Don’t tell anyone who you’re voting for. This will reduce street fights, rioting, and looting, and help everyone to live together in peace and harmony. It doesn’t really matter who wins, anyway. What matters is how well you adapt to the regime that will be in charge.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Yes, it is crazy. But we have a secret ballot for a reason. How we vote is, by law, nobody’s business if we don’t want to make it anyone’s business. I think a good way to restore sanity to politics is to take advantage of the secret ballot, and decline to reveal how we vote. This prevents arguing and fighting.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I agree a person should have the right to keep their election choice secret. But they should also be allowed to say who they are voting for, seems to fall under freedom of speech…

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Yep. That would be nice. But suppose you had come out in favor of Trump? Is Villanova a liberal college? If so, you might find yourself doxxed, and your career in jeopardy. I understand it’s not wise at some colleges to ever say you’re in favor of a Republican. That could be career-ending.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. as far as I can tell, at least within the business school, there is a pretty wide diversity of opinion when it comes to politics. For the most part, when necessary, we just agree to disagree.

        But I will also say, tenure is a wonderful thing… 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    1. It doesn’t seem right that people should be afraid or intimidated to state their beliefs. Should people not speak out about injustices that they see? Should a potential whistleblower not file a complaint due to illegal activity because it would be unpopular?

      But people need to learn how to state their opinion so it is not inflammatory, and people need to learn how to respect a difference of opinion.

      That seems to be the way a civilized society should work as opposed to repressing the voice of the people.

      I do agree that we have to accept and adapt to whichever side wins the election; I’m not too optimistic about that happening though.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It would be nice if we all could engage in civil discourse, without turning our disagreements into personal attacks. I’d love that. But that’s a utopia that we currently are far from.

        Whistleblowers generally have the protection of anonymity. At least in theory. We voters do, also. We have a secret ballot, and we’re not required to tell anyone how we vote. I see this as an effective way to promote civility. Just refuse to talk about it.

        Silence gives people a chance to reflect, rather than dig in. It can help open minds. Just keep quiet and vote your conscience, and leave everyone guessing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. He would be. I’d never allow one of those yard signs. But I wonder how much they get paid? Heck, I’d be willing to work for both sides, putting those things up, if the pay was right.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I think we put up a yard sign once, probably 20 years ago, for one of the local elections. The next day, our neighbor put one up for the other candidate. I figured it just wasn’t worth creating friction with my neighbor, so I never put up a sign again.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A timely post for sure! I will say that in the beginning of this election season I felt very confident of who I was going to vote for but as time went on I have grown fed up with both candidates and would actually like to vote for Odessa!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hours after you posted The Streisand Effect, it was mentioned on twitter with regards to a wine post that was deleted. The Bradley Effect is interesting and I for one hope it’s not true with your latest polls. I’m not in the mood for another four years of listening to Trump.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. All the effects you mention did make sense, but it’s a thing that people must change. Because together everyone is stronger.
    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” What a lovely quote.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Amazing that you posted about the Bradley effect because I have been fearful of this phenomenon in the current election. I hadn’t heard of the Bradley effect in 2016 but my intuition suspected the poles might be wrong because Trump was playing the role of The Great White Hope. Some were probably ashamed to admit publicly how much he appealed to them. After the term of the only Black POTUS, MAGA translated to Make America White Again.

    I wish MAGA types would specify the time when America was supposed to be great. Maybe it was in the ’60s when the U.S. won the space race, put a men on the moon, and many towns in America had signs at the city limits proudly saying “N word don’t let the sun set on you in (fill in the blank.)” Our family regularly drove past a sign like that outside Elwood, IN. It was on one of the main state highways. Towns like that were called “sundown towns.” Those who are unfamiliar with the concept should look it up. There were many towns like that all across the country and many other cities and neighborhoods felt the same but didn’t put up a sign (Bradley effect?). Yet every day in school we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends “with liberty and justice for all.” That kind of societal brainwashing would make the Soviet Union proud. The signs came down eventually, but the attitudes that put up those signs and tolerated their presence didn’t magically disappear when the signs did. I guess Trump’s idea of great and my idea of great have little in common.

    America is improving but has a way to go. America has had great economic and military power going back to the late 1800s. However when the U.S. lives up to its lofty ideals at home and abroad, America will be a truly great nation. Let’s move forward and keep improving not long for a past that was supposedly great but was terribly flawed in many ways.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am sorry to hear that your family had to experience such ignorance. I had never heard of sundown towns, but I agree; even though the signs may have come down, some of the attitude still persists.

      The U.S. has tremendous potential, but we have a long way to go until we live up to it.

      Thanks for your insightful comments, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m sure there is some substance to the Bradley effect. Let’s say a candidate had something disturbing that happened in the past, but you liked him/her otherwise. I can see people saying they’ll vote for someone else if they think they’ll be shamed.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. interesting, and i suppose this happens on many things across the board in many situations. just as a child without confidence may not state their own opinion when they realize what the ‘popular’ child says or does goes over better with the mass. if the others follow, they might too, even though it wouldn’t be their first choice. inside, they still may hold another opinion but after a while, this only serves to give their own thoughts and ideas even less power, as they want to fit in, have friends, and may begin to believe that what they really want is wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. The “Spiral of Silence” seems a logical and viable causal effect. I cannot find a hole in the theory and would agree that I have seen this effect first hand during this election. Propaganda is an obvious tool to put this cause into effect. If said often enough and loudly enough, people are led to believe their own differing opinions may be in the minority. But we fear not “fitting in” or the ostracization or judgement that may come from speaking our minds, and thus choose to remain silent, reinforcing the concept of our opinion being even more in the minority. I, like you, have no problems stating unapologetically that I have already cast my ballot for the Biden/Harris ticket. If that knowledge changes how someone perceives me as a person or human being, then so be it. I am the same person before you knew who I voted for, and if you feel differently I am happy to celebrate that difference rather than condemn you for it. All I ask in return is the same simple courtesy. Civility lies mortally wounded on the battlefield of our diametric politics, but through our own personal behavior, if we choose, we can breathe new life into this necessary concept. We wonder why people say to avoid speaking about politics and religion, it is because in these two arenas of thought, the other person must be inevitably wrong in order for us to be right. Great post that I hope leads to many more voicing the thoughts by comment because having an opinion, and the right to speak it, is what this country was founded on!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. thanks for posting such a thoughtful comment, Brad. When I read, “Civility lies mortally wounded on the battlefield of our diametric politics, but through our own personal behavior, if we choose, we can breathe new life into this necessary concept.”, I thought, wow, I wish I could express myself like that. Let’s hope people feel free to express their opinions, whether they are in the majority or not.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for this post, Jim. There are so many thought-provoking points, I’m not even sure how to comment. But I certainly echo the sentiment that we all have opinions, and the right to voice those opinions, be they popular or otherwise. I think part of being an adult is exercising the ability to express our own minds, and to do so in a way that is informed, respectful, and in pursuit of knowledge. 🕊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. well said, SnapDragon. The keys are to learn how to express our own opinions in a way that is not harmful in any way to others, as well to learn how to respect other opinions when they are different from ours.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting post and discussions. I don’t talk politics for a lot of reasons but that being said I am a very open minded individual and like to read and hear other people’s opinions. I have done this for years. Not because I am not confident in who I may or may not vote for, but It seems if I make a statement I am suddenly attacked as to why I should or should not vote for this person and that doesn’t give me information at all it just gives me anger and prejudices. I found out if I just don’t say I find out more true information. May be an odd way of doing things but it works for me!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting stuff, Jim. Happened over here too, with conservative voters less likely to admit their preference in polls or interviews, particularly in Scotland. Good luck on 3 Nov. Fingers crossed…

    Liked by 1 person

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