Day -55: The post-convention bounce

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The Democratic National Convention last week was fairly big news in the States. There was a lot of coverage on all the major stations, and several key note speeches (Clinton, Michelle Obama, Julian Castro, and Barack Obama of course) dominated the political journalist chatter.

However, the convention was not just watched by pundits and reporters. Around the USA, there were thousands of “Watch Parties” organised by the Obama campaign. These Watch Parties were people from local neighbourhoods who came together at a house or community centre to watch the President’s acceptance speech last Thursday.

An Obama House Watch Party in Dorchester 2012
An Obama Watch Party, where local community members talked about why they were supporting the President.

At these Watch Parties, tens of thousands of Obama supporters came out to watch the President accept the Democratic nomination. Most of the people who attended are not actively involved in the campaign currently.

The result of these Watch Parties was over 700,000 donations made to the campaign. I can attest that since Thursday night, there has been a large spike in people volunteering on the campaign. Lots of people are becoming excited again.

Back in Australia, Peter Brent of Mumble doubts the convention bounce is real.

This is because he is stuck in the mindset of compulsory voting. When people are required to vote, an increase in enthusiasm does not necessarily increase poll numbers.

Convention bounces really mostly affect people who are leaning towards one candidate or another. When you need to Get Out The Vote, this is important, because enthusiasm matters. If your supporters aren’t enthusiastic, they stay at home and don’t vote. If they aren’t enthusiastic, then they don’t donate. They don’t volunteer.

The Obama campaign is the largest volunteer field operation in electoral history. It is based on the enthusiasm of tens of thousands of volunteers, working in their community.

That the DNC convention had a poll bounce is good — because it shows that a lot of undecided voters were watching. That’s the bonus, the icing on the cake, compared to the large bounce of “already-support” voters and volunteers who have opened up their wallets or decided to join a local neighbourhood phone bank for the first time (or the second, or third).

Brent was mainly talking about the bounce in polling numbers, but he overlooks the key issue of voluntary voting.

Unlike in Australia, voluntary voting means that momentum is a real thing. Momentum is the force of that enthusiasm amongst Obama supporters who give time and money to his campaign.


Acclaimed polling blog, Five Thirty Eight, goes into the significance of post-convention bounces.

Why did President Obama get a bounce in the polls following the Democratic convention?

Part of it may simply be one of the functions that conventions have long served: to motivate voters who are generally loyal to the party, but who had been paying only marginal attention to the race.

At FiveThirtyEight, we measure the “enthusiasm gap” between the parties in a particular way. Specifically, we watch for cases in which pollsters report results among both the broader universe of registered voters, and the narrower one of likely voters. If one candidate’s supporters are more likely to vote, that candidate will do better in the likely-voter polls than the registered-voter ones.

Again, for Australians, it is hard to over emphasise the effect that voluntary voting has on the political process. Historically, as Nate Silver points out, the beneficiaries of the enthusiasm gap have been the Republicans, who have come out well ahead from their conventions. Obama in the last four years has turned that around.

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