Ariel Goldberg
Ariel Goldberg

Halloween and the ghost of Tom Bradley returned to haunt Barack Obama?

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31 the boundary between the living and the deceased dissolved, and that the dead emerged back into the world to cause chaos and run amok.

The tradition of dressing up in ghost costumes and otherworldly spirits has evolved from the belief that the only way to avoid a nasty run in with a disgruntled spirit was to pretend to be one yourself. This is the one night of the year that the dead rule the world and the living disguise themselves in amongst them to remain, well … living.

And so it is that the end of October, which happens to coincide very closely with the US presidential elections, is the time for ghosts from the past to emerge and haunt humanity.

This year, the ghost that is on everybody’s mind is Tom Bradley.

Tom Bradley was a five-term mayor of Los Angeles, California, serving in that office from 1973 to 1993. During his tenure, LA was the scene of the Olympic Games, the notorious Rodney King riots, and it passed Chicago to become the second most populous city in America.

In 1982 Bradley ran for governor of California and, to the surprise of everyone, he ended up losing. The reason everyone was surprised was that in the closing days of the campaign, Bradley had shown a significant lead in the public opinion polls. The difference in public opinion polls and cold hard election votes has been attributed to the tendency of people to “say” they would vote for a black candidate even though they wouldn’t.

When asked who they intend to vote for, people feel a social pressure not to appear bigoted or racist, while in the privacy of a voting booth they may still very well be.

The phenomenon has come to be known as the Bradley effect and has been noted in other elections involving a black and a white candidate. The question is whether it will surface this year in the US presidential race.

Barack Obama is shown by all polls to have a lead over John McCain, the latest from Gallup puts it at 7 points, 51 to 44. In fact, many commentators have said that no presidential candidate in history has lost the election from as substantial a lead has Obama has now. But can we expect these figures to be skewed by lingering racial attitudes in the US?

Michelle Obama told CNN’s Larry King that a lot has changed since Bradley lost. “That was several decades ago, and I think there’s been growth and movement,” she said. “I just believe that the issues are going to weigh in people’s hearts more so as they go into the voting booths this time around.”

I guess we will only find out on Tuesday if the central message behind Obama’s campaign is true … Is change really happening in America?

Let’s wait and see.