Polls: Obama Wins Post-Convention Bounce

Are Democrats even daring to hope for a post-convention bounce? John Kerry got none whatsoever in 2004, and Barack Obama’s post-June 3rd and post-European trip upticks were short-lived. And on Friday, John McCain’s vice-presidential announcement just hours after Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech looked like it could be enough for the GOP to steal back the spotlight and blunt whatever bounce Obama was hoping to have.

But it looks like Democrats are finally getting their wish and Obama is opening some distance between the Arizona Senator and himself. Over the long week-end, four major national polls were released, accompanied by our two tracking polls (note that all these surveys were also completed post-Palin and over the week-end, not the best time to get a poll in the field):

  • For CNN, the race was tied at 47% last week. Now, Obama gets 48% to McCain’s 47%. In a four-way race, Obama leads by 2%.
  • For CBS News, the margin was 5% last week. Now, Obama-Biden leads McCain-Palin by a comfortable 48% to 40%.
  • For USA Today/Gallup poll, Obama had a 4% lead last week. This week-end, Obama leads 50% to 43%.
  • A Hotline poll released today has Obama up 48% to 39%. He led by 4% in a poll released before the convention.
  • Gallup’s tracking poll found a clearer trend, as Obama gained 10% in four days to take an eight point lead. The margin then decreased a bit to stabilize at 6% over the past two days, with a 49% to 43% lead for Obama in the latest release.
  • In Rasmussen’s tracking, Obama got a decent bounce and reached his highest level of support ever in today’s release. He leads 48% to 43%, and 51% to 45% when leaners are included!

All six of these polls find some gain for Obama, ranging from 1% for CNN to 5% for CBS and Hotline and 6% for the Gallup tracking poll. While such a margin is in line with the historical average of post-convention bounces, some Democrats might find it a bit small, especially compared to the golden standard the media always invokes - Bill Clinton’s 16% bounce in 1992. It is even small compared to the one Al Gore experienced in 2000. But the circumstances are very different:

  1. A 4-6% bounce would be very impressive for a candidate like Obama who already had a slight advantage in the polls, as that obviously limits how high he can still rise. Al Gore was trailing massively before his convention in 2000 and Bill Clinton benefited from Ross Perot’s exit in 1996. Now, Obama is finding himself up in the high single-digits in most of these polls. That’s a good place to be.
  2. Past convention bounces were measured more “purely,” namely at the end of a week that was entirely devoted to a party’s nominee. But these past few polls also include McCain’s naming Palin on Friday. In fact, that has already allowed McCain to already get part of his own convention bounce; the main objective of a convention is to solidify the base and energize your party, and McCain’s pick already did some of that.

It is the internal numbers of these polls that are particularly encouraging for Democrats. If Obama had just changed the head to head numbers, the millions spent last week might not have been worth it. But it looks like he managed to improve the electorate’s perception of the candidate and of the Democratic Party.

First, Obama looks to have made progress towards uniting his party, and mobilized registered Democrats with his convention - though McCain did the same thing with his own base with the Palin pick. In the past few days, Rasmussen has found that both candidates have improved their ratings among their own base. CBS has McCain getting 81% of the Republican vote and Obama getting 82% of the Democratic vote (McCain’s support among the GOP is usually higher).

However (and this is a crucial measure), Obama only gets 58% of Clinton supporters in the poll, versus 22% for McCain. That remains too low a figure for Democrats to be happy about and it is a frustrating lack of progress after a week aimed at getting them back in the Democratic tent.

A crucial constituency that Obama looks to have made progress in is the female vote. Giving such a role to Hillary Clinton at the convention and hitting McCain on abortion and equal pay was meant to solidify the support of women, and that appears to have worked. McCain’s choice of Palin is not helping among women (for now) but among conservative men.

Looking more closely at the impact of Palin, there is little evidence for now that voters outside of conservatives trust this pick. 52% of CNN’s respondents rate the choice as excellent or good, and 50% say she is not qualified to become president; 75% agree with the statement that McCain chose a woman to help himself get elected. In a head-to-head match-up against Biden, Palin would lose 54% to 41%.

Obama’s acceptance speech was a key moment. Gallup found that Obama’s speech got great reviews, with 58% viewing it as excellent or good - a record. The CNN poll finds the number to be 64%, and 51% of respondents say that the convention made them more likely to vote for the Illinois Senator (versus 32% who say they are less likely).

In particular, voters now feel better about Obama’s experience, substance and strength. In the CBS poll, 58% of voters (versus 29%) now say he is “tough enough.” Three weeks ago, the answer was 48-39. Last week, 49% said he had not prepared himself to be president; this week-end, 43%. And in what is a particularly dramatic swing, 50% now say Obama has made clear what he wants to do as president, versus 44% who say he has not (three weeks ago, it was 41-55). And in the USA Today/Gallup poll, Obama has an edge when voters are asked who is the strongest leader, 46% to 44%, compared to an 8% deficit last month.

In other words, the national polls are showing that Obama has improved his position in the head-to-head matchup, yes, but also in the perception voters have of his character, resolve and strength on national security. Those were of course all perceptions the convention was looking to improve. and now comes the abridged Republican convention. We will have to wait one more week to find out what impact St. Paul has on the electorate.

Read more at Daniel Nichanian's blog, Campaign Diaries.