US election: What's behind the Obama polling bounce?

Democratic delegates in Charlotte Democratic delegates were frenzied with excitement despite Mr Obama's 'workmanlike' speech - but Republicans were only polite for Mr Romney

I find political conferences an enthralling spectator sport, and I had courtside seats at both the Republican and Democratic conventions the last two weeks.

Still, they could have been more dramatic: Mitt Romney didn't drop the ball, while President Barack Obama, an enthusiastic basketball player, didn't score a slam dunk.

But there's been a bit of a bounce, and that's all it takes.

The opinion polls indicate that as the US election campaign really gets going after the convention season, the likelihood of Mr Obama winning in November is increasing.

Don't get too excited, or too depressed.

The Obama team shouldn't be high-fiving too enthusiastically. Much of the bounce is within the margin of error. In other words, it could just be a statistical illusion.

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All in all the conventions were pretty ho-hum, so if people ended up preferring Mr Obama, it's about fundamentals, not flim flam”

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Still, some polls show a bigger bounce, and the direction - up for Mr Obama - has been consistent.

But importantly, if you only include those certain to vote, a bounce looks like a mere blip.

As I have said all along, this election is about turnout, and the big job for the Obama campaign is to push people to the polling booths.

The candidates are still neck and neck, but Mr Obama is out front by a head and could be pulling away.

The good news for the Obama campaign is that people ended up preferring Mr Obama despite the fact that the conventions were not spectacular, and were not filled with thrilling highs and lows. That suggests the bounce is about fundamentals, not flim-flam.

The bounce comes despite gloomy economic figures that are not as gloomy as some would have it - they show tiny improvement rather than any reversal.

Grits 'n' gravy

No-one bombed, except for Clint Eastwood, and no-one had a major triumph, except perhaps former President Bill Clinton.

Neither of the candidates made memorable, knock-out speeches. Policy took a holiday, and the "vision thing" had a nap.

Remember, this is an election where many would like to vote "none of the above". But they can't. It is, as Mr Obama insisted, a choice.

Critics who say the Republican convention fell flat miss the point. It was meant to be flat. That was part of its job.

The last thing strategists wanted was over-excited delegates fulminating about abortion and gay marriage from the podium and laying into the president in florid language.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world to write a speech bringing them to fever pitch. But that would have played straight into the hands of the Democrats who want to brand them as the nasty party.

The other part of the Republican convention was to sell Mr Romney as a likeable man.

He spoke about what love meant to him, a parade of speakers talked of his compassion, and he was less stiff than usual.

The delegates still don't love him, but maybe they feel a little more affection for him.

It is not certain if that got through to the 30 million or so Americans who watched on television.

Mr Romney may be a warm, funny guy in private. But he's not charismatic, not inspirational, and all the packaging in the world won't make grits taste like gravy.

'Workmanlike' president

The Democrats, on the other hand, did want to excite their delegates.

Particularly on the first night, they drove themselves into a state of high passion warning what a Romney victory would mean for women and gay people. The phrase "the right to love who you want" was repeated dozens of times by different speakers.

Ethnic diversity was emphasised, with Hispanics given a particularly warm hug.

Mr Obama could have done better. He can be a great speaker, but this wasn't one of his best.

I wasn't the only correspondent to use the word "workmanlike" and I notice someone else used the phrase "greyer and grimmer" as well.

By his own very high standards the speech was dull, lacking in personality. But it did convey a certain dogged passion, a sense he was straining to work for a better America and that to sack him now would be to take a dangerous path.

If he is, as one recent writer asserted, "a cold fish with high hands," this was not on display.

If some swing voters, and reluctant Obama supporters, emerge from the convention season believing Mr Romney is a dangerous risk and that Mr Obama is doing the best he can, then "workmanlike" will have done a job of work.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    143. 1776

    Authentic? Fighting for the middle class? Oh please!

    Obama is fighting for someone. Middle class democrats have convinced themselves it is actually they. I'm not so sure. An alignment of interests?

    It sure isn't the wealthy or those who don't support his view of the US or his worldview.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    153. AnABC

    Tax code reform is one way to create jobs. Educating workers, a way to fill them. Two different things.

    Great idea to focus on algebra, but first we must go back to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, which were sidelined a while ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    His proposals are longer term (education) and more jobs that flow directly from federal money (teachers, roads). Private sector jobs?
    If education is a 'government funded' source of job creation, then hell, I suppose almost all job creation is government funded isn't it?

    With stories of American students finding algebra hard, breaking headlines, education Might be a good way to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    122. Arthur1958 "Democrats once championed the common people; its modern disdain for all but the bourgeoisie is disappointing."

    Really? The current President, Obama, is a Democrat. Romney is the Republican candidate. While by European standards, both parties are right-wing, the Republicans are far right while the Democrats are closer to center right.

  • Comment number 151.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 150.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    # 148: Leaders 'should' know when to take the high road, and a president has to act in a manner to aid those serving in the embassies and in uniform throughout the world. Romney's made himself look even smaller in my estimation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    #146 it is a new low. Even if what he said is correct a true diplomat has enough tact to know when the time is right for that kind of conversation. Leaders are to take the high road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    In addition, many more voters trust President Obama and his administration compared to his opponents and the Republican Party backward agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Romney seems to have taken the amoral opportunism he cultivated as a venture capitalist to the political arena in the wake of the Libya/Egypt tragedies by accusing Obama's administration of "sympathise[ing] with those who waged the attacks." --- Disgraceful.

  • Comment number 145.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    In earlier notes i stated that it was a good idea to not put U.S. troops on the front line to 'liberate' Libya. There is no guarantee that the people there will be thankful, the events today make you feel that if troops were on the ground the cross hair would have moved away from the ruling regime and onto the US troops. Better to 'lead from behind' in this case or better yet stay away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Re- 138 Scott0962: Please Stop Drinking the Kool-Aid! Obama came in with no experience four years ago... and this country has paid dearly for his vision of "Hope and Change". Authentic? Fighting for the middle class? Oh please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    From the sounds of Romney's comments about foreign policy today, he appears to subscribe to the Bush mentality of "With us or against us".. does this mean Romney would lead USA into yet another extravagant war, further breaking the bank of the middle classes....looks like it...given the chance.

  • Comment number 141.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    prudeboy @ 177
    "Banks care not"

    Led by limitless hopes of personal advantage - from 'incentivising bonuses' and 'competitive salaries' - bankers amongst foremost who "care about nothing else", and wield power wildly against 'democratic interest'

    But not without love of family, country and world; and not alone in 'conflict of interest'

    Would you 'chuck the race', and work for 'equal dividend'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    138. ROmney is not exactly running on his plan or his own past record too is he? What were his major achievements as Governor? If you can recite them without looking it up it means he is not speaking about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    re. #37.Kingsley O: "Obama is authentic & he is fighting for all Americans, especially the middle-class, which is most America.While Romney is for a handful rich like himself. No matter how hard Romney try, he cannot relate to average American."

    Perfect example of Obama's campaign strategy, avoid running on his own record, define the opposition negatively and keep pushing that line.

  • Comment number 137.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Mr. mardell voters don't have to vote for either Obama or Romney, so that is a false choice to suggest you HAVE to vote for one or the other. Certainly one of them will probably win. We can write in any candidate we want or vote for one of the 3rd party candidates.


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