Your faithful observer has wondered every four years whether polls taken right after national conventions are worth the headlines they generate. Surveys taken after the first convention seem to consistently show the candidate of the party not in the White House gets a pretty good bump in the numbers. Then the second convention is held and the candidate of the party that has controlled the White House for the last four years or eight years sees its candidate’s numbers improve. At least, that’s the way it seems to have been in memory.
Polls taken, say, a month later seem to convey a more accurate picture of where the candidates really are after the emotions of the conventions have given way to the give-and-take of the long slog toward election day.
So we can expect Donald Trump’s numbers to look better after the convention’s concentrated effort to put a new, focused, and presidential face on the nominee going forward. Conventions, like primary elections for state offices, mark a dividing point. All of the division and attacks that have gone on for months are irrelevant now. This the time for going forward in unity. Now is the time to pay heed to the idea that if you can’t say anything nice about someone (within your own party) you shouldn’t say anything at all, a reversal of the contest before the convention when the mantra seemed to be, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, say something really nasty.”
The party in power will have its chance in a few days to put its new, focused, and presidential face on its nominee and we expect the immediate post-convention polls to show some voters are more favorably disposed to that party’s nominee than they were. Many potential voters will lean toward the most recent, most intensive message they have been given.
It seems from our lofty perch high above the convention floor (on our television set in the living room below) that post-convention raw-number bumps are of limited meaning on the surface. But we’ll be interested in the analysis of the other data that is collected.
Both candidates headed to their conventions with high negative attitudes by many voters. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls released before the Republican convention showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by three to eight points in the “favorable” ratings in four battleground states—Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. While both have higher “unfavorable” numbers than “favorable” numbers, Clinton was less unfavorable than Trump by six to fifteen points.
For example, the survey taken in Colorado showed those questioned rated Clinton at 34 percent favorable and 62 percent unfavorable, a 28 point difference. Trump was 27 percent favorable and 67 percent unfavorable, a 40 point difference. So while Clinton was favored over Trump by seven points on the favorable side, she was 12 points less unfavorable. It’s a heckuva way to measure who’s ahead, isn’t it?
Regardless, that was the case in all four states. She was more popular than he was and she also was less UNpopular than he was.
Conventions are about a lot of things. But one of the bigger things is how they shape public perceptions of the candidates. Both will try to paint their nominees as saviors of the nation and the opponents as pending national disasters. Will the effort to portray a kinder, gentler, more loving Donald Trump while dismissing perceived flaws in his personality or record be paying off on, to pick a date, September 1? Or will the portrait of Hillary Clinton that emerges from the Democratic convention that dismisses perceived flaws in personality and record increase confidence that her experiences foreign and domestic are the qualities that should prevail? Will the Republican effort to paint her portrait as a manipulative, unindicted political clone of President Obama increase her un-favorability among voters or will the Democratic portrayal of Trump as a rash, shallow, bully increase his?
So we’ll be looking after the Democratic convention at the favorable-unfavorable numbers to see if all of the platform rhetoric and chants and demonstrations on the floors wind up making the favorable/unfavorable margins between the two nominees much different. Then we’ll check the numbers about the first of September to see what they are in less euphoric circumstances.
Oh, it’s a long, long time from August to November.
And the days grow short when you reach October.
When the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame,
One won’t have time
To recall the convention game.
Oh, the days will dwindle down
To the precious few.
And will these polling bumps
After conventions one and two,
Still mean anything
To folks like me and you.
(with deepest apologies to composer Kurt Weill and lyricist Maxwell Anderson)