Both presidential candidates must be feeling reasonably happy as we head into the conventions. President Obama should be satisfied that, from all that appears, he leads Mitt Romney by a point or two in polls of likely voters, despite the economy’s weak recovery and the mostly bad economic news of the past few months. Romney should be satisfied that he stands only slightly behind Obama, including in key states like Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, despite the battering he has taken from negative advertising in these and other states.
Romney must also be buoyed by the fact that he has not yet had the opportunity to introduce himself properly to the American people. Most of the comparatively little advertising done on his behalf has taken the form of attacks on Obama, rather than positive packaging of Romney.
Not long ago, a Republican friend of mine wondered whether “anyone” knows that Mitt Romney helped save the 2002 Winter Olympics. Since then, I’ve encountered reasonably well informed people who are not aware of this accomplishment.
The upcoming Republican Convention, shortened though it will be by one day, provides Romney with the ideal setting in which to introduce himself. He will have no other opportunity like it. Advertisements can help, but they are too brief to tell much of a story. By the time of the debates, it will be too late for Romney to introduce himself to most voters. And those paying attention to him for the first time in the debates will encounter the candidate under circumstances in which he can neither control the proceedings nor talk much about himself.
The question on everyone’s mind now is, what bounce, if any, will Romney receive. And given the times we live in, that question tends to evolve into whether his bounce will meet, fail to meet, or exceed expectations.
The second question is silly. If Romney comes out the convention leading Obama by, say, three points, then he will be in a pretty nice position. The issue will then become, what bounce Obama gets from his convention, not whether Romney’s bounce met the expectations of the pundit class.
That said, there’s no harm in speculating about how big the Romney bounce will be. According to Gallup, the median convention bounce since 1964 is about 5 points and the average bounce is about 6. In the past two cycles, though, the typical bounce has been smaller, probably because presidential races seem to be followed more closely pre-convention, and with more information available, than used to be the case.
On the other hand, Gallup’s data shows that the challenger tends to receive a little more bounce than the incumbent president. As noted above, the challenger is introducing himself to voters in an ideal setting.
Moreover, I suspect that Republicans now have a slight natural bounce advantage over Democrats because the liberal mainstream media provides a pro-Democrat narrative in the months leading up to the conventions. Thus, viewers are more likely to hear the Republican message loud and clear for the first time during a Republican Convention than they are to hear the Democrats’ message loud and clear for the first time during a Democratic Convention.
This helps explain, I think, why President Bush received more bounce than John Kerry in 2004 despite Kerry’s status as the challenger. And compare the pre-convention status of Barack Obama in 2008 with Romney’s status this year. With the help of the MSM, Obama had attained near legendary status before his convention in Denver. This year, with the help of the MSM, Romney, to the extent people know anything about him, is the heartless rich guy challenging Obama.
For these reasons, I believe that, if the Republicans get three days, a good performance by Romney and Ryan will probably produce a 4 to 6 point bounce. But no one should panic if the bounce is smaller, or even if there is no bounce.
I expect, though, that Obama will get a decent bounce from his Convention, especially if Romney receives a significant one. I’ll explain why as we approach the Democratic event in Charlotte.