Elsewhere, and Looking Back

At Plum Line, I noted that Romney has set a rhetorical trap for Obama by both insisting that the most important question was whether people are better off now than they were four years ago…and by accusing Obama of a character weakness when he blames Bush for the economy. In other words, you have to compare the economy now to then, but you’re not allowed to say anything bad about then.

On the other hand, as I said over there…I think these rhetorical traps are vastly overrated. You hear this over and over, from both sides: if only our politicians would say X, then their politicians wouldn’t be able to counter it, or even worse: their politicians will be forced to admit Y. The thing is: politics isn’t conducted by rules under which politicians “must” answer questions. It just doesn’t work that way.

Meanwhile, at PP I argued that Romney’s tiny bounce — it’s not really clear yet if he got any bounce at all — wasn’t really about the quality of his convention; it was structural, having to do mainly with how efficiently the GOP lined up their voters as soon as the nomination was decided. Very large convention bounces are mostly caused not by really effective conventions; they’re caused by lots of voters who by all rights should be supporting the nominee, but don’t realize it yet. Basically, I was talking 1992 Democrats vs. 2012 Republicans. The thing is, I’m certainly convinced that the 1992 Democratic Convention was a far better infomercial than what we just saw in Tampa. I just don’t think that any of that mattered very much. The GOP last week did well enough; there just weren’t many easy-to-convert voters out there.

Now, I need to mention two other things. Before the convention, I said:

One thing you can pretty much count on is that Ryan will have a good week. Oh, it’s possible that something could go wrong, but for both Ryan and Romney the key thing to remember is that modern conventions are made to deliver a positive image, and they almost always succeed, at least in the short run. Even running mates who eventually turned out bad — yes, Sarah Palin — had a good convention week. I believe that Dan Quayle is really the only modern exception (and the only top-of-the-ticket exceptions are those who had internal party divisions severe enough to disrupt the normal candidate rollout). It really isn’t a reflection at all of the people involved: Everyone looks great at their own convention. 

Well, that’s a structural prediction that didn’t really turn out very well, did it? Ryan didn’t have a good week, I don’t think. At least, in the press; I don’t know what happened to his polling. I would say that Romney had the worst-polled convention speech in forever, and it still wasn’t exactly bad. Still a net positive in self-reporting (which doesn’t mean much, but still).

The other one: last week I wrote that Romney would be winning after the GOP convention. Okay, “likely” be winning. I think I’m probably going to be technically wrong on this one, but just barely. At the time, I reported the Pollster average giving Obama a one-percentage-point lead; as of right now, Monday afternoon, Pollster has it Obama 46.1, Romney 46.0. So no Romney lead today, but we could see one before the Democratic bounce (if any) kicks in. Overall, I’m not embarrassed by this one; if after a convention that polled as badly as any in the last few decades put Romney just barely short of a lead, I think it’s an okay prediction. Except, you know, for not being, well, correct.

[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.