The overblown Bush bounce

By Mark Follman

Published September 7, 2004 7:53PM (EDT)

The lights inside Madison Square Garden had barely been shut off late last week when Time and Newsweek magazines both unveiled new polls declaring that George W. Bush had blazed ahead to a double-digit lead in the presidential race. While some Kerry supporters were surely deflated by the news, others were skeptical, noting that it would be nearly impossible to meaningfully assess the effect of the Republican Convention before the holiday weekend. (We won't bother speculating whether Time and Newsweek were simply rushing to weigh in first on the expected Bush bounce, or whether their Bush-friendly numbers had anything to do with the "liberal" mainstream media that conservatives keep griping about.)

Over at Donkey Rising, Ruy Teixeira says today's new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll is vindication for those who were more prepared to buy a Labor Day vacation package to Florida than they were Friday's headline poll numbers.

Teixeira notes that today's is the first poll that truly measures Bush's bounce -- a modest two-point one, among registered and likely voters alike -- and that the minor gain actually doesn't look so rosy for Bush when put into historical perspective.

"Bush's 2-point bounce from his convention (which, remember, is defined as the change in a candidate's level of support, not in margin) is the worst ever received by an incumbent president, regardless of party, and the worst ever received by a Republican candidate, whether incumbent or not. In 2000, Bush received an 8-point bounce. And even his hapless father received a 5-point bounce in 1992."

The new survey does reflect some favorable results for the Bush campaign: For example, the typically gloomy-faced Vice President Cheney is now viewed "slightly more positively" than before the convention, rising four points to 48 percent of voters who think of him "favorably." But the Gallup poll also shows that the Democratic gathering in Boston was more effective in persuading Americans:

"Forty-one percent of Americans say what they saw or read of the Republican convention makes them more likely to support Bush, while 38% say less likely. Americans were slightly more enthusiastic about the Democratic convention, as 44% said it made them more likely to vote for Kerry, and 30% said less likely. That 41% figure for the Republican convention is actually the lowest Gallup has measured dating back to the 1984 Democratic convention."

Apparently, Americans didn't much care for the dark musings of Sen. Zell Miller, or the rest of the GOP attacks leveled at Kerry from the GOP stage in Manhattan.

"Half the public thought the Republicans 'spent too much time criticizing the Democrats' at their convention, while 39% thought the Republicans 'achieved the right balance between criticizing the Democrats and saying positive things about themselves.'

"Similarly, 52% of Americans say the Republican Party has attacked John Kerry unfairly, compared with 48% who said this before the Republican convention."

The last time a GOP get-together was rated more negatively in tone than this one? Late August of 1992, according to Gallup, when 56 percent of surveyed voters were turned off by Republican rancor -- and the first incumbent President Bush was on his way to losing to Bill Clinton.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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