Pollsters: Don't expect big convention bounce

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The days of a sizable post-convention poll bounce might be over.


Thanks in part to heavy campaign ad spending, a saturation of political coverage, and the rise of social media, pollsters say neither party should expect a major bump in the polls following their national conventions.    

According to Gallup, presidential candidates can typically expect around a five percentage point increase in preference among registered voters. In the recent past, that bump has been as high as 16 percent (Bill Clinton in 1992).

“These days, with the 24-hour news cycle, the amount of money spent on campaign ads and how early those ads are going up, it’s hard to find somebody who doesn’t already have an opinion on both candidates,” says Stefan Hankin, a Democratic pollster and founder of Lincoln Park Strategies.

Hankin thinks the best either candidate will do following their respective conventions is to jump a point or two in the polls. Even a particularly rousing convention from the GOP might only amount to a modest boost, Hankin predicted, because media fragmentation has limited the number of people tuning in to convention coverage.  

After the Republican convention in 2008, Sen. John McCain received a 6-point bounce, but his convention was energized by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a completely unknown quantity to the electorate at the time. It was very much a short-term boost for McCain four years ago.

“Historically, there have been some pretty big bounces, but we’re in a different age,” says Democratic pollster John Anzalone. “There are so many ways to get information now that people get it earlier and get more of it, so they develop impressions earlier than they did in 1992.”

That was the election year in which Bill Clinton saw a record 16-point poll increase after the Democratic convention. That’s a number Anzalone says neither candidate will come close to this cycle. Romney is still auditioning for voters, and while Obama has a chance to reconnect by using his convention to tout the administration’s accomplishments, Anzalone says the immediate polling impact will be minimal.

Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin expects something similar to the post-convention numbers George W. Bush and John Kerry saw in 2004. Kerry lost a point and Bush went up only two points. 

“I still think this is Romney’s race to lose because, if you look at the undecideds in this race, they really disapprove of the job Obama’s done,” McLaughlin says.

According to Gallup, the typical poll bounce coming out of the Republican convention is between four and eight percentage points, but the Romney campaign is downplaying the potential for a notable bounce. While Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus predicted a “visible” poll bounce in an interview with Bloomberg, Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said convention bounces in past cycles shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of what may happen this time around.

Numbers guru Nate Silver also predicted a small post-convention bounce this time around, but he wrote that “if Mr. Romney gets no convention bounce at all, or a bounce of only one or two percentage points, it will be appropriate to take a more pessimistic view of his chances of winning in November.”


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