Last week’s column dealt with post-convention “bounce.” As the original function of nominating conventions (to decide who will run) receded, the job taken over by primaries and caucuses, other roles came into prominence.
At the top of the list is the ability of the nominee and his team to generate a surge of energy to carry them forward into the final stretch of increasingly long campaigns. Polling organizations now carefully track the “bounce.”
So, how did Romney and the Republicans do?
Not so well, although a big post-convention bounce is not a guarantee of victory in November.
Gallup has measured the impact of national party nominating conventions since 1984, using a question that asks potential voters whether what they have seen or read makes them more or less likely to vote for the party’s candidate.
The polls reveal the difference between those more likely to vote for the nominee and those less likely, indicating the effect of days of carefully choreographed events, including the nominee’s acceptance speech.
What Gallup found this year is that Mitt Romney moved the needle by 2 percentage points to his advantage, the lowest amount since the polling organization started tracking in 1984.
In contrast, Barack Obama generated a 14 percentage-point bounce in 2008, when John McCain and the Republicans generated a 5 percentage-point bounce.
McCain’s showing was about the same as for George W. Bush’s in 2004 (plus 3 percentage points), who ended up beating the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, even though Kerry and the Democrats did well at their convention (plus 14 percentage points).
Pre- and post-convention polling by CNN found little change in the horse-race numbers. Among likely voters, support for the Obama/Biden ticket went down by 1 percentage point, from 49 percent to 48 percent. For the Romney/Ryan ticket, support went up, from 47 percent before the convention to 48 percent after, the race ending in a dead heat.
Among all registered voters, the results were similar. Pre-convention, Obama/Biden was ahead, 52 percent to 43 percent; after, the numbers were 52 percent for the Democratic ticket and 45 percent for the Republican team.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll after the Republican convention showed some upside for Romney in softer measurements. His “likeable” numbers went from 26 percent the day before the Republican convention to 31 percent the day afterward. Among independents, the number who found the former Massachusetts governor likeable went from 16 percent to 20 percent.
Still, Obama had a 48 percent likability rating in the Reuters/Ipsos polling, which also gave Romney a 1 percentage-point lead on Friday over the president, a result essentially unchanged from the day before, when Romney gave his acceptance speech.
The reason the numbers didn’t move may lie in Gallup data on Romney’s acceptance speech. Thirty-eight percent rated the speech as excellent or good, the lowest rating for a convention acceptance speech since Gallup’s tracking began in 1996.
This week, Democrats gathered at their convention began to hammer away at the Republican nominee, continuing to portray him as rich and out of touch. Whatever small gains Romney achieved at the GOP convention could erode quickly, proving, once again, that it is usually best to be the last speaker at a political debate.
What must President Obama and his party do at their convention?
Obama has made sure to give elements of the Democratic coalition their due on issues such as gay marriage, immigration reform and equal pay for women. To re-energize the coalition, and draw in swing voters, Obama needs to articulate a broader vision, beyond just the one-word slogan “forward.”
He has the opportunity to do so tonight in his acceptance speech, if he reveals concrete details of his plans for the next four years. While convention acceptance speeches are not State of the Union addresses, crammed with policy details, Romney’s convention speech was remarkably short on specifics. That gives Obama the chance to fill in the void, pulling the various elements of his party together into more than collection of interest groups.
Essentially, Republicans have cast government as a “taker,” of taxes and freedoms, a theme that goes back to Ronald Reagan. Obama has a different view, seeing a positive role for government in providing support individuals need to succeed.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.