Kerry's Baby Bounce


Republican and Democratic spinning on John Kerry's post-convention bounce -- or lack thereof -- has been as dizzying as the swirl of balloons at FleetCenter in Boston, where the Democratic convention was held in late July. To get a less partisan perspective, BusinessWeek's Christina Scotti talked with four political science professors at colleges in different regions of the country -- two in so-called Red States, one in a Blue State, and one in a crucial swing state. Here are edited excerpts of their comments on the situation:

Professor Kelly Patterson, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

Q: Why didn't Kerry get a bigger bounce in public opinion polls after the Democratic National Convention?

A: I think the big news there is that there aren't as many undecideds. This is a campaign that has historically started much earlier than campaigns in the past. And this is one where most people have already made up their minds.

Q: What about the so-called lack of news coverage?

A: The lack of coverage I don't think rings true because the [TV networks] have been shortening the amount of convention coverage for years.

Q: And what about the criticism that maybe Kerry picked Edwards [his running mate] too early?

A: I don't think that has much to do with it, either. I think that they strategically decided to announce the Edwards selection when they did to try to lengthen the coverage. So I don't think that should have minimized the bounce. I think that should have maximized the bounce.

Professor John Bruce, University of Mississippi, Oxford

Q: Why didn't Kerry get a bigger bounce after the Democratic National Convention?

A: The bounce historically has come from excitement and coverage. Excitement over the pick -- [remember] when George H.W. Bush got off the airplane and announced that "My pick is Dan Quayle." So, there was news there, things that are worthy of conversation. The last couple of conventions have not had that. The other thing that's required for a bounce is coverage, and this year we had less coverage of the convention than we have ever had before.

Q: Do you think Kerry's speech had anything to do with the lack of bounce?

A: No. I think I saw a Newsweek poll [a 4-point bounce] that showed they had done some polling the night before and some the night after [the speech]. The evidence is weak because of the way they did the sample, but it looked like his speech moved some people.

If nothing else, one way to think about why the bounce wasn't enormous is because we have more people locked up in positions this year earlier than ever before. To have a bounce, you have to have a segment of the population that you can extract support from. There are fewer undecideds in July then there has ever been. So there is less room [for movement].

Professor Philip Klinkner, Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y.

Q: Why didn't Kerry get a bigger bounce after the Democratic National Convention?

A: One explanation is you have all of these different polls, and some say you got a good bounce and some say you didn't, so it depends on the poll. The second one is that the potential for a bounce this year was lower than in previous years because you don't have as many undecided voters. The other thing is that they're doing all these historical comparisons, and this sort of relates to the previous point: Well, the average bounce is X and he got X minus 3, or whatever it is. You look at these historical comparisons, and there's one huge exception, which was Clinton in 1992, who got this huge bounce. So, whenever they throw [Clinton] into that average, it artificially boosts the average

Q: How much was Clinton's bounce?

A: Sixteen points according to Gallup. ABC news had 30 points. It's like what is the average income of a group of 20 people, one of whom is Bill Gates? The average is really meaningless because you have one [person] who just throws everything off.

And the other thing is there's no relationship between a bounce and an election outcome. Jimmy Carter got a 10-point bounce in 1980, and he lost the election. Clinton in 1996 got 5, and he won. [Walter] Mondale got 9 points in 1984, and he lost every state but one. Michael Dukakis got a huge bounce coming out of his convention in 1988, and it didn't do him any good.

Q: So, for the most part there's not much of a bounce?

A: Most people get about 5 or 6 points, and that's about what Kerry got according to most of the polls.... I mean Nixon in 1968 got 5, Humphrey in '68 got 2. ?ost [bounces] are in single digits -- and most are in low single digits -- except for Clinton with that huge bounce in 1992.

Q: So right now the only reason people are talking about this is because that's really all there is to talk about?

A: Yeah, there's nothing else to talk about.

Q: So, we will start figuring it out after the Republican convention?

A: Yes, and then they will be chattering about how much bounce Bush got. But it's all really meaningless. There's no relation between bounce and election outcome, so it's purely horse-race coverage.

Professor Susan MacManus, University of South Florida, Tampa

Q: Why didn't Kerry get a bigger bounce after the Democratic National Convention?

A: There are several reasons. People have mentioned a lot of them. One is that so many people have their minds made up. But, I think that some of it is??eople are into reality TV programs that are exciting and risky and all that, and this wasn't that kind of speech. People who watched were people who pretty much already had their minds made up. And I'm thinking that a lot of it is?ith so many choices between the Internet and different cable stations?? political show really is not one that can necessarily compete [for] the younger population, which is the one that's most in flux and the one that can be convinced?

Q: But don't you think that it has become more popular to vote since the last election and post-September 11?

A: Yes, I mean I'm absolutely predicting a larger turnout among younger voters, particularly college level. And I mean, I can see it all over the place, especially in our state [Florida] because you have two things working -- you had 9/11, and then you had the closeness of the [2000] vote. As I always tell my students the first day of class: "There are more people sitting in this building right now than would have made the difference in the election of 2000."


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