The Debate Bounce

THE DEBATE BOUNCE….The LA Times has an interesting chart today that showed the size of the post-debate poll bounce since 1960 (as measured by Gallup). Here’s the change in the approval rating spread between the major party candidates over the years:

  • 1960: 4% (Kennedy)

  • 1976: 4% (Ford)

  • 1980: 6% (Reagan)

  • 1984: 3% (Reagan)

  • 1988: 3% (Dukakis)

  • 1992: 3% (Bush)

  • 1996: 1% (Clinton)

  • 2000: 15% (Bush)

There are some real surprises here. Gerald Ford, despite his famous gaffe about Poland in 1976, gained ground on Carter after their debate. Ditto for Dukakis, who is widely held to have destroyed his candidacy by his bloodless response to a question about his wife being raped. And the real winner of both the 1992 and 1996 debates was Ross Perot. In those years, both the major party candidates lost ground after the debate while Perot gained ground.

But the real shocker is 2000: George W. Bush picked up 15 points on Al Gore. This is like hitting a hundred home runs in a season: it’s not just a record, it’s an almost inhuman blowout. No one in history has ever even come close.

According to Gallup, Bush went into the first debate in 2000 with an 8-point deficit and came out with a 7-point lead. And despite conventional wisdom, this is not because Gore was an awful debater. He’s actually pretty good. But Bush was apparently much, much better.

I sure hope he’s not that good this year ? especially since a major gaffe (as I speculated about yesterday) probably won’t actually hurt him that much. At any rate, the famous debate gaffes of yesteryear sure don’t seem to have done as much damage as people think.

Bottom line: George Bush is the intergalactic champion of presidential debates. John Kerry has his work cut out for him.

UPDATE: A reader emails to tell me that both Ford’s Poland gaffe and Dukakis’ rape gaffe came in their second debates. The Gallup numbers above refer to changes after the first debate of the year.

So: gaffe watch continues! A major league stumble from Bush could still cost him the election. Keep your eyes peeled!