The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Monday, August 02, 2004


A convention bounce, I think, happens because of the actions of three groups:

1) The party base becomes energized and unites around the candidate.

2) Some undecideds say "hmm, maybe I'll support this guy"

3) Some soft supporters of the other candidate say "hmm, I'm not so sure, I think I'll be undecided now"

The largest part of a candidate's bounce probably comes from the first of the three groups, the party faithful. This was certainly the case for the Democrats in 2000, when a general party apathy produced a reluctance to fully embrace Al Gore before the convention. He had been trailing Bush substantially up to that point, and the relative party unity coming out of the convention was a big part of why he shot into the lead, bouncing up in the polls by more than a dozen points.

On the other hand, for John Kerry, group #1 was not going to be a part of his convention bounce, because the party was very united and energized coming into the convention. Thus, the 5-8 point swing in most polls after the convention consists mostly of undecideds who now back Kerry, and some soft Bush supporters who have been rendered undecided by the convention.

Because of the high level of base consolidation in both parties right now, Bush's bounce is likely to be no larger than Kerry's. Bush is the incumbent, and he's been introduced to the public just about as much as any candidate ever could be. What all this means is that we're seeing something that hasn't happened in a while: Convention bounces made up almost entirely of swing voters.

Bush's goal at the RNC convention will be to drain the pool of undecideds as much as he possibly can (note the moderate face they're putting on the party with primetime speeches by Giuliani, Pataki, etc). In re-election campaigns, undecideds traditionally break away from the incumbent, the thinking being if they aren't sold on him at this point they won't ever be.

UPDATE: The thing that throws a wrench into this analysis is the comparison between Bush and Kerry on the issues. The new ABC/WashingtonPost poll has Kerry gaining modestly overall against Bush (net 8 points), but issue-by-issue, the bounce is Gore-ish (scroll down until you see the table). Kerry leads big on everything except handling terrorism, and even there he gained 15% to close Bush's lead to just 3%.


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