Monday, September 3, 2012

No Bounce?

It is awfully hard to discern a bounce in Romney's numbers. Lots of polling has been done in the few days since the GOP convention ended but there's not much there there as Mark Blumenthal points out.

Let me posit a few theories as to why this is:

1) The GOP Convention was a flop. Perhaps there's no bounce because the convention just didn't go well (see Eastwood, Clint). I don't think the convention went particularly well so this is at least part of the explanation. I was somewhat surprised to see some rave reviews for Romney's speech, even on MSNBC. I didn't think it was bad. It just wasn't very memorable in any respect.

2) Having the conventions back to back like this with Labor Day Weekend in between mutes the impact of both. I think this is part of the story. In addition, the DNC had a rapid response team at the GOP Convention and the GOP will do the same in Charlotte. The conventions do not dominate the media space or even the tv space the same way they once did (see #3) and, in short, they are right on top of each other canceling each other out.

3) Conventions are simply non-events and the public has caught on. If we take the view from 30,000 feet for a moment, it is important to remember that conventions were actually newsworthy events just about 4 decades ago. In 1968, there was plenty to cover when nominations were at stake. Even in 1976 and 1980, there was drama over the VP nod (Republicans in 1976) and over the Kennedy/Carter kerfuffle (1980). Since then, conventions have really been staged commercials. For a couple of decades, people tuned in thinking they might see something (a la 1980 or 1968). But then the number of channels available exploded as did the various modes of delivery after Al Gore graciously invented the world wide interweb (a series of tubes). So, two things have combined to end the convention's dominance of media. We've all caught on that there's nothing really happening and we've all got lots of other things to watch and do now. In short, we can watch a 3-day infomercial - "3 days to stronger Abs!!!" - or we can watch something that is important - baseball. Now, it is true that even those watching find out what happened (through a media filter mind you) in the couple of days after the convention by hearing about it, reading about it, etc. But they tend to see very small snippets like the big gaffe (see Eastwood, Clint) or the soaring moments (see ... ???).

I think all three of these theories have something useful to offer in explaining Romney's "little to no" bounce. But I think it is probably correct that #3 is the biggest piece of it. The only people tuning in are political junkies who've already made up their minds. Romney's performance (and the whole GOP for that matter) was fairly weak. But there really wasn't much of an opportunity for them to create a big bounce anyway.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has a piece out this morning that somewhat along the lines of the argument in #3. He says in part:
The three smallest bounces for the challenging candidates came in the last three elections. Bounces aren’t what they used to be, perhaps because voters are saturated with information months in advance of an election, increased partisanship and sterilized conventions that may have become too polished for their own good.

The catch is that each of these things is a structural factor, and therefore might predict that Mr. Obama won’t get much of a bounce either. Maybe this is just the new normal.

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