Follow the bouncing poll Convention-al wisdom: After every one, the nominee's popularity goes up. And then. . .

August 21, 1996

BOB DOLE in particular and Republicans in general came away from San Diego energized by his "bounce" in the polls. But they should not let themselves be fooled. The convention bounce is routine and non-predictive.

The most consistent polling data on this phenomenon is the Gallup Organization's. It has been comparing pre- and post-convention public opinion since 1960. On Aug. 7 this year it found President Clinton ahead of Mr. Dole by 22 percentage points, 52-30, with Ross Perot at 12. A three-day poll concluded on Aug. 18 showed the gap closed to seven percentage points, 48-41-7. That's an 11-point bounce for the Republican.

Not a record, but not bad. Bill Clinton bounced 16 points in 1992, from 40 to 56 points. As you might recall, Mr. Clinton defeated President Bush in 1992, but with 43 percent of the vote, not 56.

The only other double-digit bouncers were Richard Nixon, who bounced 14 points after the 1960 Republican convention, and Jimmy Carter, who bounced by 10 after the 1980 Democratic convention. History records that Mr. Nixon lost the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy (whose bounce was only 6 points), and President Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan (8-point bounce).

Every candidate of both parties has gotten a bounce from his convention, except George McGovern in 1972. That was because the Democrats put on a bad convention. Still, he broke even. It would take a very bad convention to cause a candidate to bounce down. Even Hubert Humphrey's standing rose 2 points in the polls after the riotous Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968.

Candidates, especially those behind in the polls, like to say "the only poll that counts is the one taken on Election Day." That's true -- and it reflects two months of give-and-take between the parties and the candidates on the only stage that matters: the campaign trail, including debates. Conventions are important, but their showcase nature makes any lasting impact on voter sentiment negligible.

That was true last week, and it will be true next week.

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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