Where were you when you first learned that Obama got a “bounce” from the Democratic National Convention? Such exciting news will remain with you…oh, you didn’t know he got a bounce?
Well, it’s been “confirmed,” according to (among others) Mark Blumenthal at Huffington Post, who writes that “Daily tracking polls published over the weekend show President Barack Obama enjoying a modest boost in support following the Democratic party convention, though how long that polling ‘bounce’ will last remains uncertain.”
He’s right. Predicting the future “remains uncertain,” and it’s important to remind people of that. Particularly with poll bounces.
Take, for example, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist, and author of Do Campaigns Matter?, Thomas Holbrook, who predicted that Romney would get a 3.6 percentage point bounce following the Republican Convention and Obama would get just a 1.1 percentage point bounce. As he explains, “Based on my bump predictions, I expect that the race will continue to be tight after the conventions but that Romney will hold a slight lead.”
However, in case you missed it, Gallup reports “Romney got no bounce” from his convention. Combined with an Obama bounce of 4 percentage points, and a current Obama lead of about 3 points (with two tracking polls showing 5-point leads), that means Holbrook is zero for three in predictions. (Political scientists are really really good at explaining what happened in the past, but explaining the future is more dicey.)
But does the Obama bounce matter? Depends on who’s talking. USA Today enlightens its readers by noting, “Bounces by definition can dissipate as quickly as they arrive.” (We shouldn’t even be talking about a bounce that persists, because by definition it has the life of a moth. So, why is there so much media coverage about the convention bounce?)
Anyway, Neil Newhouse, Romney’s pollster, also envisions a short life of the bounce, advising people (according to CNN) against “getting too worked up about the latest polling.”
The liberal website, Daily Kos, ignored the advice, instead getting really worked up by arguing that “Incumbent bounces don’t fade: Romney is in more trouble than you think,” stressing (all in caps) that “NO INCUMBENT WHO HAS LED ON SEPTEMBER 15TH HAS EVER LOST.” (I should mention that the “ever” reference goes all the way back to …1980! Yup…eight elections, two of which had no incumbents…but if those six elections can predict the future, then you now know the November winner.)
Hedging its bets a bit, Daily Kos admits that future events in the campaign could influence the outcome: “Debates matter…In both 2000 and 2004, debates remade the race.”
O.K. So, we’re back to where we started. The bounce is important, because now one candidate is in the lead. And if that lead persists until Election Day, despite the debates and other campaign efforts, the leading candidate will win. Maybe. (There’s always that pesky Electoral College that can make the winner the loser. Ask Al Gore.)
But what will actually occur remains uncertain.