Literally Everything You Need To Know About Obama’s Convention Bounce (Literally)

by evanmcmurry

There were only two likely results once the Democratic National Convention started with Romney and Obama in a virtual dead heat in the polls. The first was that Obama would get little to no poll bounce—and after his wet rag of a speech, that was certainly a possibility. Together with the dismal job numbers released less than twelve hours following the closing of the convention, that might have spelled real trouble for the Obama campaign: if he was unable to capitalize on memorable performances by almost every figure in the Democratic party, and was hurt by job numbers, it would have shown that he really was the vulnerable incumbent Romney had been claiming all along, one wind-shift away from falling behind his opponent.

That didn’t happen. Obama’s poll bounce seems to be averaging five points,* and yes, that includes Rasmussen, a polling firm that skews heavily Republican. The most recent CNN poll of likely voters—who, as Greg Sargeant points out, break more toward Republicans than the general populace—has him up six points. Obama is at 50% for the first time in the race, and perhaps most important, he is finally beating Romney in who would better handle the economy.** That has been, for months, Romney’s only strong point; it’s really, really bad news for Romeny that Obama pulled ahead on that metric.

So what, says you the skeptic, that’s why they call it a “bounce.” Sure thing, dick, except Romney didn’t get one himself. Romney, in fact, hasn’t gotten a bounce from either the selection of Paul Ryan or the RNC convention. As Jonathan Chait puts it, the fact that Obama got such a bounce says that voters are very open to the idea of reelecting him, and not about to turn on the president out of economic malaise, as Romney argues; double that if Obama was still able to get a 5-6 point bounce despite those job numbers throwing a bucket of cold water on his convention.

Meanwhile, the fact that Romney can’t break through the polls—his unfavorability ratings remain a point underwater despite his multi-million dollar prime-time attempt to humanize himself, and he has yet to lead Obama in the race—suggest that his voters-will-elect-anybody-not-Obama strategy is officially failing. I’ve been screaming from rooftops for a while now that if voters were going to drop Obama over the poor economic recovery and turn to his private-sector replacement, it would have happened by now. But if there were ever a moment for such a defection, this past week would have been it. It’s simply not happening.

This is the second possible narrative coming out of the DNC: that Obama has never trailed this race, and will now begin to pull away with it. That’s what Steve Kornacki at Salon is arguing; headline: “Barack Obama is winning and pretty much has been all year.” Moreover, TNR‘s Nate Cohn posits, somewhat persuasively, that we are at the most indicative point of the whole race. While he’s careful to hem his thesis, he essentially says that every presidential race dating back to Johnson has been decided by this point. History’s greatest monster Jimmy Carter, the predecessor to whom Republicans keep trying to link Obama, received a bounce from his convention—from 39 to 41 percent. Obama, by contrast, is breaking 50 percent, equal to Reagan’s 1980 total at this moment. Even more telling, this is the highest Obama has polled in the whole race:

This election’s unusual stability makes Obama’s potential movement even more significant. For two years, Obama’s approval ratings hewed within just a few points of 47 percent and the entire summer elapsed without any discernible movement toward either candidate. Romney wasn’t able to secure any post-RNC bounce, and Obama’s gains represent the first decided movement toward either candidate since Romney won the Republican nomination. Put differently, we now know there are voters open to voting for the president beyond the initial 47 percent he held in summer polls, but Romney has not demonstrated similar upside.

In other words, the 47% at which Obama’s been hovering all this time was his weak number due to the economy. Romney’s been arguing that Obama’s been polling artificially high due to how much voters like him, but that once they come to terms with the fact it’s okay to dump him over his weak performance, he’d drop. But it’s looking more like 47% was Obama’s floor, not his ceiling.

Via Ed Kilgore, this is bad news for Romney, not just cuz he’s losing, but because his losing will activate the crazier sections of his party, the way a fever causes chills. We all remember that the tail end of the McCain campaign was pretty much taken over by “goin’ rogue” Sarah Palin, who started flinging accusations of socialism and terrorist-pallin’ in an attempt to salvage the race. Romney has even less of an ability to withstand the demands of the more conservative elements of the Republican party. Which means that at a moment when Romney should be paddling toward center as fast as possible, especially to win women voters, he’ll instead by getting whipped by the right of his party to become even more conservative to mobilize his base in hopes to beat Obama in turnout. Good luck winning an election like that.

Obvi, we’re eight weeks out and this is all speculative. But the Romney campaign is looking at all these same numbers and panicking.

* Eternal poll disclaimer: national polls are meaningless, margin of error, etc.

** Actually, he’s only one point ahead in this metric, well within the margin of error—sorry, “credibility interval.” But this has been Obama’s weakest point, so merely the fact that he’s attained a watery lead means something.