The Veep Bump

Okay, I admit I’ve been guilty of this one too, but: we’re getting a fair amount of attention and analysis about the initial bump that Mitt Romney gets from announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate. And, sure, it’s interesting, in a political junkie way.

But in terms of assessing the choice of Ryan, the initial bump is pretty much irrelevant. After all, the nature of these bumps is that they come and go, right? So if that’s going to happen, then who cares if the initial bump is six points or three points or zero? What we care about is what effect if any Ryan has in November, not in the first days after he’s chosen. And there’s no particular reason to think that the two are related.

Indeed, as I’ve noted before (and see too Stan Collender), Ryan’s rollout was well-designed to minimize his bump, deliberately or not. Introducing him early in the morning on the last Saturday of the Olympics?

Two things. One is that the whole idea of caring a lot about the secrecy of the Veepstakes winner is, well, silly. Oh, it makes sense to maintain some secrecy during the process, because you don’t want to insult the losers too much, or allow the impression that the eventual running mate wasn’t the first choice. But beyond that, who cares? Suppose the news had leaked on Tuesday instead of Friday night, but went unconfirmed all week. So what?

The other is that we need to really resist the tendency to think of the campaign as if it was a sports season, in which there are weeks (or days, or hours, or whatever) that candidates “win” or “lose” in a way that winds up cumulative in some way. That’s not how campaigns work! If something makes a big splash and then dissipates, it often is just plain gone and forgotten, and doesn’t matter at all going forward.

What we really want to know about any potential Ryan effect, then, isn’t the bump — it’s what things look like after the bump is over. And how, if at all, the choice appears to be affecting things in October, not in August. So even though it’s a fun game to follow how the day-to-day stuff goes, there’s tons of that part of the campaign that just don’t matter at all to the November vote.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.