Convention Bounces and Running Mates

by: fladem

Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 13:26

I firmly believe that most political reporters and other "experts" don't know what they are talking about.  Few seem interested at all in political history (for example, the parallels that everyone is drawing to 1980 are interesting, but ignore one enormous difference between that election and 2008), in general they are little more than parrots who repeat what they hear from someone else with little thought.  

Right now you can read just about everywhere, for example, that John Kerry didn't get any bounce out of the 2004 Democratic Convention.  Now if you actually study what happened, you find out that this is actually pretty complicated, but this is far too much trouble for most political reporters.    

And so this post will review convention bounces since 1976.  At the end I will to suggest how each campaign is likely to play the upcoming month, and who is likely to benefit the most. It is part of  a series that I began last summer designed to look at the history of  presidential campaigns,  To date I have written about how  Iowa, New Hampshire, and  early summer polling.  The last two pieces will be on the debates and the last week of an election.  A note: gathering all of this data has been hell, but it does force you to read how the press reported on politics in the past.  In general it was every bit as bad as it is today but there is one really significant exception: when E J Dionne covered politics in the late 70's and 80's for the New York Time he was great.  I can't think of any current political reporter who shows nearly the knowledge or sophistication he showed on a daily basis for nearly a decade.  

A note on this data: Gallup has published calculations that show much smaller bounces than I show here.  Their calculations only look at the effect of the party's candidate, and ignore any impact on the candidate's opponent.  

The largest bounce was the one Clinton received in 1992.  The size of Clinton's bounce is in part a product of Ross Perot's departure from the race.  

In the 1970's and 80's networks covered conventions in far great detail than they do know,  there were far fewer cable channels that they were competing with.  Since Convention Bounces are a largely the result of saturation news coverage, one would expect that these bounces would decline in tandem with the amount of attention given to news coverage.   There is evidence that this is happening. The table below compares bounces for incumbents to challengers, and the bounce from the first convention to bounces from the second convention.  More importantly though it compares bounces from the 70's and 80's to conventions since 1996.  Convention Bounces appear to have substantially declined.  Why?  There are three possible explanations:

1. The decline in media coverage of the National Conventions
2. The increasing polarization of the electorate
3. The practice of naming running mates before the convention

On the flip I will show how the third explanation accounts for the missing Kerry bounce of 2004

fladem :: Convention Bounces and Running Mates
Convention Bounces are the product of Media Coverage.  The one thing  all Media hungers for is drama.  With the exception of  the 1976 Republican Convention and the 1980 Democratic Convention, most conventions have been completely devoid of drama about the party's eventual nominee.  But until recently most conventions have one story with real drama: the choice of the running mate.   Until 1984  Vice Presidential candidates were named during the convention.  In 1984 Mondale named Ferraro well before the convention.  The table below shows the convention dates since 1976 and the date the Nominee announced his choice for running mate.  

The trend has been for nominees to announce their running mates earlier and earlier.   One result, I think, is to deprive the convention of what the media needs most: drama.  In 2004 Kerry announced Edwards as his choice over two weeks before the convention.  


This table shows a substantial bounce for Kerry from naming Edwards.  This  bounce is similar in size to the typical bounce that a candidate gets from a convention  Data comparing the pre-convention and post convention period is ambiguous, but on average shows no change.   Though the data is less clear, it appears that something similar took place in 1996.  Dole named Kemp the day before the convention in 1996, and CNN showed that this cut a 22 point lead to 12 (the evidence from 2000 is less clear cut).  

What the Kerry experience strongly suggests is that naming your VP selection early may substantially effect the bounce you get from a convention.   For non-incumbents, it appears that the VP choice has an enormous impact on the public's perception of the candidate, and is responsible for much of the bounce that they receive.  

What this shows, I think, is that both the Obama and McCain campaigns are being smart about thier potential nominees.  The evidence suggests that once the nominee is named, much of the drama will end around the convention itself.

One final point.  There is one critical different between the upcoming GOP and Democratic conventions: there will  be significantly more drama around the Democratic Convention.  One can envision several moments in Denver (Hillary's speech, the roll call) that will provide suspense that simply will not exist at the GOP convention.  This suggests to me that McCain will likely not name his choice until the weekend before the GOP convention.  It also suggests that the potential exists for the Obama bounce to be significantly larger than the Republican Bounce.  There is no evidence from the data that contested conventions yeild smaller bounces than uncontested conventions.  

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Somewhat related question (4.00 / 1)
How do the parties decide when to have their conventions?

I would think you would always want to go last so you can sort of rebut anything that the other party says or does. Or do last minute changes to try to outdo them.

So why do the Democrats let the GOP go after them? Or am I missing something and this has no effect (I see it is a rather small 0.4% effect) or there can be advantages to going first?

I believe the parties follow a tradition where... (4.00 / 2)
...the party holding the White House gets to have their convention last.  So in 2000, the Dems went last.

[ Parent ]
Thanks (0.00 / 0)
I've always wondered about that.  

[ Parent ]
it's also worth noting that (0.00 / 0)
The public financing rules are (were?) important here.  The General starts once you accept the nomination at the convention. For a candidate in the public financing for both primaries and general, it made sense (see Gore 2000) to get your hands on the GE money earlier since the primary funds were all spent.  Meanwhile, having opted out of the primary, Bush (2000, 2004) had huge amounts in the primary, so it made sense for him to delay the start of the general.  This gave him an advantage since he got the dame amount of money but with fewer days of campaigning.  Both parties now schedule their convention late given the commonness of opting out of primary funding.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
Great work on this (4.00 / 2)
Clarifying the difference between the VP bounce and the convention bounce is a key point.

When you say this:

Few seem interested at all in political history (for example, the parallels that everyone is drawing to 1980 are interesting, but ignore one enormous difference between that election and 2008)

Are you referring to the fact that Carter was an incumbent while McCain isn't?

No negative attacks in DNC... (4.00 / 4)
Everyone was told not to criticize Bush at the 2004 DNC...  Despite the fact that Bush was an incumbent president and people need a reason to throw an incumbent out of office rather than "change horses midstream".  Democrats didn't do that, while the Republicans went in and made Kerry completely undesirable to the public.  Bush's popularity may not have been fantastic around then (it hovered just around 50%, if not a bit below), but if the public is just sort of lukewarm about the incumbent, how much harm could he do for another 4 years?  But the new guy... well, he'd just let terrorists take over the country, according to the RNC.  Can't let that happen.

exactly (4.00 / 1)
I thought Kerry would get a big bounce from his positive, forward-looking convention. But the fact that nobody (aside from Kerry) went after Bush turned out to be a mega blunder.

A few weeks later, the RNC convention was all about sliming Kerry. No new ideas, nothing positive. Just "vote for Bush or you will die". And voila - Bush gets an 8 point bounce.

I hope Obama's speakers tear into McCain. Hillary especially. I'd like to see that venom she showed against Obama used against McCain.

The same goes for Mark Warner, Bill Clinton, the VP. Michelle Obama should of course deliver a positive speech that talks about her family life and Barack, but the other speakers should have no hesitation.

[ Parent ]
Very Interesting, And Well Thought Through (4.00 / 2)
For non-incumbents, it appears that the VP choice has an enormous impact on the public's perception of the candidate, and is responsible for much of the bounce that they receive.

I wish I'd realized this when I was getting all that grief for showing how much of a difference Edwards made in the SUSA VP polls.  It certainly shows that a significant VP impact is a credible assumption. Of course, now that Edwards is gone, I feel even more frustrated at SUSA's bizaare choice of VP candidates to poll for.

It would certainly be nice to have a VP candidate whose impact had been polled for competetively ahead of time, and then be able to compare that to the convention bounce.  It could help immensely in gaining an understanding of how the electorate is thinking when these major shifts in support take place.

I think it's entirely possible that even a lackluster candidate can produce a semi-decent bounce, given how they can be built up in the press.  But I'd really like to see that tested.

Good work!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Hear! Hear! (4.00 / 1)
Thanks for doing everything in your power to get Edwards the VP nod!! If only we had listened!

(Insert sound of one hand clapping here)

[ Parent ]
Thanks For NOT Listening (0.00 / 0)
I said repeatedly in my analysis that I was analysing the data available, and that there were other candidates I could willngly support, but for whom there was no data, even though I thought they would be strong.

I never endorsed Edwards during the primary, although I eventually announced that I would vote for him, and that sort of crucial distinction carried over as well to my subsequent arguments.  Unfortunately, a lot of people, yourself included, repeatedly failed to listen to what I said, preferring instead to put words in my mouth.

Well, at least you're consistent, since you still haven't stopped.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
The only thing I've ever jumped on you about (0.00 / 0)
regarding JE, before this, was your ridiculous position on the JE scandals -- i.e., this can't be true because it came from the NE.

[ Parent ]
Sorry If I've Confursed You With Others (0.00 / 0)
But that wasn't my position with the NE, either.  I wasn't saying that they couldn't be right, but that they shouldn't be paid attention to.

Why? Because they are not motivated by journalistic principles, but rather by sensationalist/commercial ones.

We have a hard enough time with journalistic organizations that betray journalistic principles.  We don't need to compound the problem by giving credence to the likes of NE.

It's the same as giving credence to creeps like Jerome Corsi. I certainly wouldn't say that Corsi couldn't possibly come up with a story that others had missed.  But even if he did, that would hardly make him someone that should be taken seriously.

One has to look at the totally of consequences here, not just the immediate payoff of whether one story could be true or not.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Maybe the idea is to pick a surprise (0.00 / 0)
NOT someone who has been polled and dissected to death, if what you want is a big bump.

In the past, many VPs were the top or one of the top defeated primary candidates who had a solid voting bloc (LBJ, GHWBush), and were picked at the convention.  When there was a clear favorite coming into the convention and months between the emergence of the nominee and the convention, there was a wider field to pick from (or maybe just not some obvious choice), and so more suspense.

Now we have the extensive vetting process to prevent another Eagleton, but it is kept quiet to maximize the surprise factor.  So maybe Obama will surprise us all.

I still think he feels his most crucial need is to reassure, though, rather than make a bold pick like Colin Powell or Bill Gates or some other big surprise (Al Gore, or maybe Powell, is the only one who can do both, but doesn't seem likely).

So we will just have to wait and see.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
I Have No Problem With A Surprise Per Se (0.00 / 0)
But there should be careful, substantive, cross-tabbed internal polling to support the choice.  And not just national polling, but polling in at least a representative sample of key swing states--such as a minimum of one state each from the four regions I analyzed a couple of weeks back.

A choice based entirely on Versailles narratives would be not just disappointing, but potentially damaging to the campaign.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Excellent analysis ... (0.00 / 0)
Nice work distinguishing between the VP-reaction and convention-bounce.

Nate Silver's What a Convention Bounce Looks Like, also posted today, is a good complementary piece, approaching it from the perspective of "how to adjust weightings of post-convention polls".



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