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Obama Got The Convention Bounce, As Well As Bad Economic Numbers

President Barack Obama joins Former President Bill Clinton on stage during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.
J. Scott Applewhite
President Barack Obama joins Former President Bill Clinton on stage during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.

The Democrats were no sooner out of Charlotte when the bad economic news came.

A more disappointing job report than had been forecast. Economic numbers weaker than expected. Just 96,000 jobs were created in August, far fewer than what economists were anticipating. And even a lower unemployment rate — down to 8.1 percent from 8.3 — was explained as that more people had simply stopped looking for work. The hope of four years ago is quickly becoming a fading memory, especially for those whose lives have not seen the change Barack Obama once promised.

Reality often can get in the way of a celebration, and that may be how we define the convention bounce of 2012. All the emotion and enthusiasm and memorable speeches of Charlotte have indeed resulted in a "bounce" for the president and his party. But how long does it last? Maybe a little trip down memory lane is in order.

(Fade music here for flashback)

Her smiling face belied a voice dripping of contempt.

"Poor George," Ann Richards said of the Republican nominee. "He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

That 1988 Democratic convention also included taunts from Ted Kennedy aimed at Vice President George H.W. Bush, whom he was depicting as someone totally missing from accountability in the Reagan administration. "Where was George?" he asked over and over, which became a rallying refrain at the Omni in Atlanta.

Democrats got a big bounce out of their 1988 convention.  It didn't last.
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
Democrats got a big bounce out of their 1988 convention. It didn't last.

All in all, a big success for the Democrats and Michael Dukakis, who left the convention with a seven-point bounce and a 17-point lead in the polls, according to Gallup.

But the bounce the Democrats got didn't last long. Where was George, you ask? Four weeks after their convention ended, Gallup had Bush up by nine.

Not every convention bounce disappears. Bill Clinton got a 16-point bounce after his 1992 convention. Five weeks later, the Republicans met and renominated President Bush. But the GOP convention, its internal divisions exposed, wasn't as successful, and Clinton never lost his momentum.

To be sure, things were different back then. The two conventions were weeks apart, and that allowed at least one party to emerge with serious momentum. Now, they are practically on top of each other. In 2008 and again this year, they were separated by just a weekend. And so whatever momentum the first convention might create could theoretically vanish within days, if not hours.

That's what happened four years ago. The Democratic convention that nominated Obama in Denver was seen as a home run, not to mention historic. Gallup showed the Dems with a four-point bounce. But Republicans, aware of what they were up against, struck quickly. John McCain waited just one day after the Democrats left Denver to announce Sarah Palin as his running mate. In the first Gallup survey after the Republican confab in St. Paul, McCain jumped to a 49-44 percent lead over Obama.

And it looks like we're seeing a similar situation this year. The Republicans went first and nominated Mitt Romney in Tampa. A talking chair aside, it went well. But there was no evidence of a meaningful Romney bounce, and it didn't have nearly the kind of emotion that we saw at the Democratic gathering days later in Charlotte. Gallup now has Obama up, 49-45 percent. The Reuters/Ipsos poll also has the President ahead by four points. Said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark, "The [convention] bump is actually happening. I know there was some debate whether it would happen... but it's here."

Nate Silver, who writes the Five Thirty Eight blog at the New York Times, says the bounce may be more than just a blip:

"What's a bit more worrisome for Mr. Romney is that Gallup's reporting of the head-to-head results in its poll occurs over a lengthy seven-day window, meaning that only a minority of the interviews in the poll were conducted after the major speeches at the Democratic convention.

In fact, most of the interviews in the poll were conducted just after the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., a period in which Mr. Romney should have been enjoying a convention bounce of his own. ...

It's certainly important to be cautious when interpreting one-day changes in the polls. But so far, this data is tracking toward a decent-size convention bounce for Mr. Obama. It's quite unlikely, in fact, that the movement in the polls reflects statistical noise alone."

Silver points out that one day after the convention came a "mediocre jobs report," which certainly can't be good news for the Dems. And so,

"The better question, then, is not whether the movement in the polls toward Mr. Obama is 'real,' but rather how much more of it (if any) he will get, and how long it persists. ...

Mr. Obama will need to show leads of around four or five points in national polls conducted next week to maintain the advantage the model is now showing for him. ...

Mr. Romney entered the conventions in a narrow deficit to Mr. Obama. The fact that he only pulled into a rough tie in the polls after the Republican convention was a bearish sign for him. If Mr. Obama emerges from the conventions in a stronger position than he entered them with, Mr. Romney's position will have become a bit difficult."

Obama can, and will continue to, try to make the case that as disappointing as things are now, Romney and the GOP will make them worse. Republicans in Congress have blocked their attempts at improving the economy every step of the way. That in a nutshell is the president's strategy. On the other hand, if the election is a referendum on the past three and a half years, Obama is in trouble. And great speeches at a national convention will not change that.

With former congressman Virgil Goode on the ballot in Virginia, could he be Mitt Romney's Nader?
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
With former congressman Virgil Goode on the ballot in Virginia, could he be Mitt Romney's Nader?

Goode News for Obama. Former Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia, who was elected as a Democrat (1996 and 1998), an independent (2000) and a Republican (2002, 2004 and 2006) before his narrow defeat in 2008, is the presidential nominee this year of the Constitution Party. Last week he qualified for the ballot in Virginia, a state that is seen as dead even between President Obama and Mitt Romney, an almost "must win" state for Romney if he is to prevail in November. It's not a stretch to suggest that nearly every vote Goode gets would be siphoned from Romney's total. And Goode doesn't have to do particularly well to make a difference. Think back to 2000. Ralph Nader got just 1.6 percent of the vote in Florida. But many Democrats are convinced that those 97,000-plus votes he received ultimately cost Al Gore the state, and the presidency. George W. Bush carried Florida by just 537 votes.

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's segment was a full hour. The first part focused on the Democratic convention, which you can listen to here:

Sept. 5 Political Junkie segment on TOTN

The second part focused on what President Obama needed to accomplish at the convention, with former presidential speechwriters Peter Robinson (Reagan) and Paul Glastris (Clinton).

TOTN Junkie: Advice for Obama

I also had a chat with Linda Wertheimer on NPR's Weekend Edition on Sunday, talking about House and Senate races. You can hear that masterpiece here as well.

my chat with Linda Wertheimer

Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me. Last week's episode had Ron in Charlotte and me in D.C.

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN T-shirt! (T-Shirt update: They're coming, really and truly, and within a month! Drop me an email if you want to see the new design.)

Most recent winner: Kim Wright of Goshen, Ind.


Sept. 11 — Primaries in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Oct. 3 — First presidential debate, University of Denver. Also: TOTN's Political Junkie segment from St. Louis.

Oct. 10 — TOTN's Political Junkie segment from Columbus, Ohio.

Oct. 11 -- Vice Presidential debate, Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Oct. 16 — Second presidential debate, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Oct. 22 — Third presidential debate, Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Nov. 6 — ELECTION DAY. Also: Louisiana primary.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection

This day in campaign history: For only the second time since the Civil War — and the first time since 1934 — Maine has re-elected a Democratic governor. Edmund Muskie, first elected in 1954, wins with 59 percent of the vote over state House Speaker Willis Trafton (Sept. 10, 1956). In 1958 Muskie will become the first Democrat in Maine's history to popularly win a Senate seat, and he will be re-elected in 1964, 1970 and 1976. He will be his party's vice presidential nominee in 1968 but fail in his bid for the presidential nomination in 1972. Muskie will resign from the Senate in 1980 to become Secretary of State in the Cabinet of President Jimmy Carter.

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