Politics & Policy

Bounce This!

Gore's still going to lose.

OK, sorry about the delay today. Super-savvy international e-journalist that I am, I locked myself out of my apartment for close to three hours. I kept calling up to the window for the couch to unlock the door, but like Bill Clinton at Greg Norman’s house, he couldn’t make it down the stairs without help. Combine this with the fact that I am operating on about two hours of sleep and living like a CHUD (stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, after the film by the same name) because the little lady is out of town (yes, women do civilize men), so you can forgive me for being both tardy and cranky.

Anyway, sorry about the whining. I promise to be on my toes — like Robert Reich at a urinal — for the rest of this column.

So, Al got his bounce (it helps if you say it in the same tone as “baby got his bottle”). And various readers are contemplating self-immolation in their computer-cubicle veal pens at the prospect of a Gore presidency. Well, hold on to your gas cans (stop giggling, sicko): He’s still gonna lose.

First, a little history. The concept of the “convention bounce” is a relatively new one. William Safire suggests that the phrase came into common usage around 1980, when Jody Powell referred to the “post-convention bounce we hoped for” — describing the psychological boost the Carter campaign got from their convention. Prior to that, the term of art was “convention bump.” I know, you’re saying, “Who cares?” And guess what — you’re right, no one does. So, let’s move on.

Every presidential candidate since 1960 has gotten a “bump” or “bounce” (sounds like menu items at a Bangkok girlie bar), except George McGovern (this mostly had to do with the fact that his upper teeth are very large — it’s a technical thing). After the 1980 convention, Jimmy Carter erased Reagan’s healthy lead, gaining 7 points while Reagan lost 6. So, during this week twenty years ago the race stood at 39% for Reagan, 38% for Carter, and 14% for John Anderson (who, if I hadn’t seen him on C-SPAN this weekend, I would have sworn was a fry guy at a McDonald’s I go to).

Now here’s the really important thing to keep in mind: Jimmy Carter was a loser (oh I know, he built some houses, toasted some dictators, grew some peanuts blah, blah, blah, pin a rose on him). And guess what? He lost, for that is what losers do. Indeed he lost by a bigger margin — 50.75% to 41.02% — than the amount by which he was trailing before his bounce.

In fact, we can do this all day. In 1984 Mondale, got a 13 point bounce, which translated in November into a masterful victory . . . in the District of Columbia and Minnesota. Mondale lost everywhere else (525 to 13 electoral votes). In 1988? President Bush trailed Dukakis by 17 points after the Democratic convention. You can ask Dukakis yourself: He has office hours from 10 AM to 11 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Then, of course, there was 1996. Bob Dole got the second-biggest bounce in memory. (The highest was Bill Clinton’s in 1992.) The Dole bounce was explained in the press as the result of the Kemp pick, in much the same way Gore’s choice of Lieberman is cited as lifting the ticket. Dole lost by 9 points, and — except for about ten days after that year’s Democratic convention — pretty much everyone would have predicted the loss.

Which gets to the problem with bounce hysteria: It’s bunk, and the press knows it. First of all, the numbers — as with all bounces — are all over the place. Some have Gore up, some down. Some said Mondale got no bump in 1984 and others say he went through the roof.

As best as one can tell, the trend in post-convention bounces is that they are getting bigger and bigger. Paradoxically, I think that tracks with the development of the no-news convention. The press is increasingly bad at reporting the substance of campaigns and the electorate is increasingly apathetic. Add the two together and you can see why an uninterrupted four-day infomercial would swirl the data.

But even when the numbers are real, they are profoundly temporary. Oddly, the media seemed more willing to tell voters this in 1996. My cursory and subjective search found a lot of stories talking down the Dole bounce, and yet I can find comparatively few articles talking down the Democratic bounce of 1992 or, for that matter, 2000. Hmmm, I wonder why that could be?

In a sense, whether bias is a factor or not doesn’t matter. The press wants a horse race and so they’re playing up the “whole new ballgame” feel of the Gore bounce. And, in a way, this is as it should be. No election is written in stone, and responsible reporters shouldn’t write off campaigns before they get started (like they did with Dole, the rat bastards). The press should cover elections in real time, so I can forgive them their hysteria over Gore’s catch-up in the polls. But, for the rest of you sitting out there reading the brochures for Canadian citizenship (“Step 1: Cross the border. Step 2: Do not go on Welfare. Step 3: Okay, go on Welfare if you really have to.”), fear not, this too shall pass.


Okay, I hope this was my last piece about a political convention for four years. As many readers know, NRO pulled up the stakes and took the show on the road for the Democratic and Republican conventions. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun, and once my Santa Monica hotel FedEx-es me my liver (which I left in my room), everything will be back to normal. In the meantime this continues to be the highest-traffic month in the history of NRO. I’m grateful to we happy few who went to the conventions and I hope they will continue — like Jay Nordlinger — to write several pieces a day for the site.

But I really want to thank the gang at the home office who had to do the same amount of work but with few of the fringe benefits. Thanks to Chris McEvoy (our managing editor and guru of NRO weekend and — I am convinced — the ringleader of a pending coup at NRO); Jessica Kelsey, our webmaster and wonderwebwoman; Mike Potemra, AKA the Shadow; and, of course, Kathryn Lopez, without whom not just NRO but National Review and perhaps Western Civilization itself would crumble into the sea. She’d be known as the hardest working woman in rock ‘n’ roll, except she’s not in rock ‘n’ roll. Which is sort of like saying a day without coffee is like something else without something else. What’s that from?


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