Let's face it: Presidential campaigns love to play the expectations game. And often, the expectations the campaigns try to set for their opponents are just plain ridiculous. But even by the usual standards, the latest memo from John McCain's campaign, which suggests that Barack Obama should see a 15-point jump in the polls coming out of the Democratic convention, is really absurd.
"Because of the unique nature of the Democratic primary, we believe Obama will receive a significant bump from his convention," Sarah Simmons, director of strategy for McCain, says in the memo. "This cycle mirrors Bill Clinton's Democratic convention in 1992: A historic 16-point bump. Barack Obama is more similarly situated to Bill Clinton in 1992 than any other candidate in recent history ... We ... believe it is reasonable to expect nearly a 15-point bounce out of a convention in this political environment."
But using Clinton's mark for comparison purposes is, at best, disingenuous. As the memo does admittedly note, Clinton's post-convention bounce was "historic," the largest ever recorded. The next highest was Jimmy Carter's; then President Carter got a 10-point boost out of the convention in 1980. And according to Gallup, overall, the median bounce candidates have gotten after the 22 national conventions held since 1964 is just 5 points.
Moreover, what the memo does not note is the unusual circumstance that bore some responsibility for Clinton's numbers at the time. The 1992 Democratic convention wrapped up on July 16, the same day Ross Perot announced that he was dropping out of the race. The polls that gave Clinton the record were conducted in the immediate wake of Perot's announcement. In the first paragraph of a July 18 article about his paper's survey results, the New York Times' late, great Johnny Apple wrote:
With the 1992 Presidential race in ferment once more, both parties began intensive bids for former supporters of Ross Perot yesterday, and a new New York Times/CBS News Poll showed the Democratic nominee, Bill Clinton, as the main beneficiary of the independent candidate's sudden withdrawal.