Obama’s Convention Bounce Becoming More Apparent
If the first round of post-convention polling is correct, President Obama may be pulling away from Mitt Romney.
In the wake of the Democratic National Convention, I noted late last week that President Obama seemed to be experiencing a statistically significant uptick in the Daily Tracking Polls. Nate Silver now observes that the movement in the polls since then seems to be significant enough to push the President into frontrunner status, a place that neither candidate has really be in since this campaign began in earnest:
On Friday, we began to see reasonably clear signs that President Obama would receive some kind of bounce in the polls from the Democratic convention.
Mr. Obama had another strong day in the polls on Saturday, making further gains in each of four national tracking polls. The question now is not whether Mr. Obama will get a bounce in the polls, but how substantial it will be.
Some of the data, in fact, suggests that the conventions may have changed the composition of the race, making Mr. Obama a reasonably clear favorite as we enter the stretch run of the campaign.
On Saturday, Mr. Obama extended his advantage to three points from two points in the Gallup national tracking poll, and to four points from two in an online survey conducted by Ipsos. He pulled ahead of Mitt Romney by two points in the Rasmussen Reports tracking poll, reversing a one-point deficit in the edition of the poll published on Friday.
A fourth tracking poll, conducted online by the RAND Corporation’s American Life Panel, had Mr. Obama three percentage points ahead of Mr. Romney in the survey it published early Saturday morning; the candidates had been virtually tied in the poll on Friday.
In the time since Silver posted this piece, we’ve seen another uptick for the President in a Daily Tracking Poll. The latest iteration of the Rasmussen Daily Presidential Track Poll, released just this morning, has the President at 49% to Governor Romney’s 45%, that is a doubling of the President’s lead as reflected in the Saturday numbers and, perhaps more importantly, a net gain of 8 points from the peak of a +4 Romney convention bounce that Rasmussen had recorded earlier this week. Gallup’s daily numbers will be released later today, and I would expect we might see the President’s four point lead in that poll increase by a point or two.
Clearly, the President is getting a more significant bounce from his convention than Romney did from his. Perhaps this is attributable to the fact that, by some accounts, the Democrats had a more successful convention than the GOP did, perhaps it’s partly because of Bill Clinton, and perhaps part of it is simply the fact that it came second and was scheduled after the Labor Day weekend, when more people were likely paying attention to the news reports about the race if not watching the convention itself. Whatever the reason, though, it’s fairly clear that the President is benefiting from his convention. More interestingly, there doesn’t, as of yet, seem to be much of a negative impact from Friday’s thoroughly disappointing jobs report. Given the nature of Daily Tracking Polls, of course, the impact of those numbers may not show up for a day or two given the fact that we’ve only really had one full day of polling since the August Jobs Report was released.
For the moment, though, Obama seems to be establishing a more dominant lead than he has in the past. The RealClearPolitics average, which for the past week or so has been influenced solely by the Daily Tracking Polls since the major polls weren’t releasing anything during the conventions, now shows the President with a 1.6 point advantage. That’s not very large, but it’s a definite change from the days immediately before the convention when the average was effectively at a statistic tie. You can see the move toward Obama in recent weeks in the chart:
The other significant move that we’ve seen over the past several days is an uptick in the President’s job approval rating. President Obama above 50% in the Daily Tracking Polls for that question conducted by Gallup and within one point of that level in the most recent Rasmussen numbers, and much of the movement has come over the time period covered by the Democratic National Convention, and its aftermath. Indeed, one can see a definite positive uptick for President Obama in job approval over the two week period covered by the conventions, most of it coming during and after the Democratic Convention:
Perhaps more importantly, though, one political analyst notes that Mitt Romney appears to have ended up with a negative convention bounce:
As I stated before, the GOP convention was of no help to them in the Electoral College. Indeed, it appears that the race shifted towards President Obama by 6-15 EV, or about 1.0% of Popular Vote Meta-Margin. From an analytical perspective, a negative bounce is quite remarkable because all the talk in recent weeks has been of bounces being smaller or zero, but always in the hosting party’s favor. It is all the more remarkable because of the relatively small number of state polls over the last week, so that the Meta-analysis’s inputs have not fully turned over (for discussion see comments). So the negative bounce may be larger than what is shown in the graph. Such an event would have been missed in past years (and even this year) because national polls don’t have the best resolution.
The natural question arises: why would the Republicans be hurt by their own convention? Two answers come to mind.
(1) The Ryan-VP bounce effectively used up whatever room there was for a bounce. This year, opinion seems to be fluctuating in a very narrow range: Obama up by 1.0-5.0%. Maybe there was no room for improvement.
(2) The GOP convention was not particularly inspiring. Indeed, the most notable event was Clint Eastwood’s empty-chair routine, which overshadowed Romney’s acceptance speech.
The first point seems to have at least some merit to me. If you go back to the beginning of August, you’ll see that Romney definitely did get a bounce in the polls from naming Paul Ryan as his running mate, although it didn’t last very long. Traditionally, Vice-Presidential picks aren’t announced until much closer to the convention, and this arguably has an impact on the ticket’s standing in the polls. John McCain, for example, didn’t introduce Sarah Palin to the nation until the Friday before the Republican Convention began and, by the time the convention was over, the McCain/Palin ticket had actually surpassed Obama/Biden in the polls and managed to stay there until mid-September when the financial crisis began in earnest. Arguably, the combination of a VP pick and a mostly successful convention helped McCain in the polls, while picking his running mate early meant that Romney had earned most of his bounce weeks before the convention and there wasn’t much higher to go.
Looking at the numbers, Silver believes that it’s likely that the President will end up with a statistically significant lead by the time the full effect of the conventions plays out:
Earlier in the week of the convention, before there was any data on the magnitude of Mr. Obama’s bounce, I used a series of golf metaphors to serve as a guide to interpreting the postconvention numbers. By that nomenclature, it now appears that Mr. Obama is on track for a “birdie” convention, meaning that he would exit the conventions in a somewhat stronger position than where he entered them.
The equivalent of a par score remains a possibility if Mr. Obama’s numbers cool off a bit, which they very well may, although that would be better thanMr. Romney’s bogey.
But there is also the possibility of an eagle, with Mr. Obama holding as much as an eight- to nine-point lead over Mr. Romney in the polls once they fully reflect post-convention data. His polls seem to have been about that strong since Mr. Clinton’s speech, at least.
Again, this is just the upside case for Mr. Obama — not the reality yet. But the fact that it seems plausible is a bit surprising to me. Very little has moved the polls much all this year — including Mr. Romney’s convention and his choice of Paul D. Ryan as his running mate, events that typically produce bounces. But Mr. Obama has already made clear gains in the polls in surveys that only partially reflect his convention.
As surprising as it might be, however, I do not see how you can interpret it as anything other than a good sign for Mr. Obama. All elections have turning points. Perhaps Mr. Obama simply has the more persuasive pitch to voters, and the conventions were the first time when this became readily apparent.
Perhaps it will be. It’s worth noting, of course, that we’ve seen bumps like these before and they’ve usually been short-lived. After a week or so at best, the numbers drop back down to the “Steady State Election” that we’ve seen since the race really began in April. It’s entirely possible that the President’s convention bounce will be just as short-lived as these other changes in the race have been. I tend to think that this won’t be the case, though. One of the reasons that the race remained steady for most of the summer is because large numbers of voters weren’t paying all that much attention to it. Now that we’ve entered the post-Labor Day period, though, and there are less than 60 days left before Americans go to the polls, and even less than that for states that have early voting, which starts as early as the first week of October in some locations. People are starting to pay attention to this election far more than they did over the summer I suspect, and that means that an uptick in the polls for either candidate is likely to be far more long lasting than it would have been in June or July. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the President maintain a steady 50% in National polling for several weeks, possibly leading right into the October debates.
Even the Romney campaign seems to be conceding that they are the underdogs at this point:
The Romney campaign, while pleasantly surprised by Obama’s lackluster prime-time performance, said the post-convention bounce they hoped for fell well short of expectations and privately lament that state-by-state polling numbers — most glaringly in Ohio — are working in the president’s favor.
“Their map has many more routes to victory,” said a top Republican official. Two officials intimately involved in the GOP campaign said Ohio leans clearly in Obama’s favor now, with a high single-digit edge, based on their internal tracking numbers of conservative groups. Romney can still win the presidency if he loses Ohio, but it’s extremely difficult.
The Obama and Romney campaigns anticipate little movement in national polls before the first debate on Oct. 3, which both see as the most important day of this campaign. They also see eye-to-eye on their belief the election will come down to whether Romney can persuade voters he understands the problems of ordinary people and that his solutions are at least marginally better for turning things around economically.
In the end, what gives both camps the sense that Obama is better positioned, is the map of 10 states they are fighting on. Two months ago, a top Romney official said they had to have at least one or two of these states in the bag, preferably Florida, to be on course to win. They don’t.
“Our problems are Virginia, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire,” a top official said. “Our opportunities are Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado. We can’t trade our problems for our opportunities and win the presidency. If we trade our problems for our opportunities, we lose.”
I noted the shrinking of Romney’s path to Electoral College victory on Friday. In the end, it’s Romney’s ability to win there that really matters, and there are several scenarios under which he could do so and yet lose the popular vote as George W. Bush did in 2000. The same thing could happen to Obama. For that reason, we’re getting close to the point where paying a lot of attention to the national polls isn’t going to be very informative about the true state of the race. What really matters is what’s happening on the state level, and Obama had a clear advantage there even before this apparent post-convention bounce began. If anything, it’s likely that a statistically significant rise in the national polls will trickle down to the state level and make Obama’s position there even stronger.
None of this is to suggest that the race is over. There is simply far too much that can happen over the next nine weeks to say that right now. Additionally, even if Obama heads into the October debates with a lead, it’s entirely possible that Romney could end up surprising everyone and changing the direction of the race completely. Admittedly, this isn’t necessarily likely, but it could happen. We could also see more serious signs of an economic downturn that erodes the advantage the President appears to be building up here. For the moment, though, the President seems to be surging ahead of Romney, and he already has a clear advantage in the Electoral College. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and some serious luck for Romney and his people to reverse that, I would think, and I’m not sure they have much of a chance of pulling it off.
Update: Gallup has just released it’s Sunday Daily Tracking Poll numbers, reflecting the addition of last night’s polling. President Obama leads Governor Romney 49% to 44%.