Welcome to The Two Minute Drill for August 5, 2016. Here, we endeavor to explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less – roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor. This week: The Conventions are over, the dust
has settled is settling, and we’ve entered the general election season. The looming question on everyone’s mind – apart from what Donald Trump will say today – is whether Hillary Clinton got a post-convention bounce, and whether what we are seeing in the polls means anything. Let’s get to it.
Post-Convention Bounces Are Like Sugar Highs
The general rule about election polling is that the polls become more accurate as Election Day approaches. The period immediately following the party conventions is an exception.
Initial polls conducted after the Republican National Convention suggested that Donald Trump enjoyed a small to medium convention bounce. A CBS News poll showed Trump leading by 1 percentage point; a CNN poll showed a 5 point lead; a Morning Consult poll showed a 4 point lead. FiveThirtyEight’s “now-cast” suggested that Trump gained a net of 4 percentage points on Clinton as a result of the convention, turning a deficit of 3 points into a 1-point lead.
This “bounce” was in line with expectations. Modern conventions, in fact, almost always produce polling bounces in favor of the party that just held them.
It came as no surprise, then, when Hillary Clinton also received a bounce following the close of the Democratic National Convention. The CBS News poll now shows Clinton ahead by 5 percentage points; the Morning Consult poll now shows Clinton leading by 5 points; a RABA Research national poll has Clinton with a 15-point lead; and a Public Policy Polling survey has Clinton up by 5 points.
There are two ways to evaluate a post-convention bump.
Some pundits are concerned with the size of the convention bounce and whether or not it exceeds the average of about 5 to 6 percentage points. By that measure, Clinton’s bounce is not only bigger than Trump’s, but more in line with historical expectations. Other pundits are concerned with the durability of the convention bounce. Bill Clinton’s 1992 bid for president has taken on mythical proportions not only because of its dramatic size – Mr. Clinton saw a 16-percentage-point swing – but also because it persisted through election day.
There is no right or wrong way to evaluate post-convention bounces, and it is important to keep in mind that most convention gains are actually very deceptive. The most prudent course of action, therefore, is probably to ignore these recent polls altogether and not get too concerned or overconfident – depending on your political perspective – on the basis of a single poll, or group of polls. There is, however, reason to believe that Clinton’s bounce may stick.
For one thing, convention bounces are most durable when they help unify parties. Mrs. Clinton was able to do that – in fact, her biggest gains were among friendly groups, like young voters and supporters of Bernie Sanders. In addition, Clinton – and allied groups like Priorities USA Action – is actively advertising on television in battleground states. That’s something that Mr. Trump is not doing, giving her a distinct opportunity to further consolidate support and lock in the advantage.
BOTTOM LINE: A campaign would rather be in Clinton’s position post-convention than Trump’s. But any excitement or distress should be tempered. As the case of Mr. Trump makes clear, gains in polling can be fleeting. Wait a few weeks. We are now within 100 days of the general election. And the polls are about to become very good predictors of the outcome.