A Tale of Two Conventions

Reversal in Candidates Philosphy tells how Parties Feel About the Election 


Sean Trende

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The political conventions are (finally) over, and with that the general election (finally, or at least officially) begins in earnest. In the next few days we’ll be subjected to endless analyses of what went right, what went wrong, and what was a wash. Most of these will reflect highly subjective impressions of analysts who have virtually nothing in common with your average swing voter.


So let’s try something different. Instead, I think it is at least somewhat useful to look at the conventions and see what they tell us about what the campaigns think about the election. After all, they have reams of data on swing voters, and on the state of the race.


Let’s start with the Republicans. They had a very strange convention for a challenging party. For starters, the speakers largely avoided Mitt Romney, at least until the last night. Chris Christie drew heated criticism for his lack of celebration of the presumptive nominee. But it wasn’t just Christie. Marco Rubio’s speech mentioned Romney’s name twice; Susana Martinez mentioned him twice; Condoleezza Rice used his name five times. Combined, that’s fewer mentions of Romney than Ted Strickland uttered in his speech at the Democratic convention.


Challenger conventions are also typically filled with bashing of the incumbent president. But Rice and Christie never mentioned Barack Obama; Martinez mentioned him once; Rubio, three times. This isn’t to say that Republicans went easy on the president (Paul Ryan in particular prosecuted the case against him). But they spent an awful lot of prime time talking about things other than Obama and their nominee.


This all may tell us two things about how Team Romney views the race. First, they don’t see a lot of value in bashing Obama anymore. Americans know him, and their minds are by and large made up. In the 939 polls Gallup has taken since January 1, 2010, the president has been below 48 percent approval 80 percent of the time. He’s also been above 43 percent approval 80 percent of the time.


This year in particular has seen even more stability; his approval has been below 48 percent 79 percent of the time and above 43 percent 93 percent of the time. That is remarkable. The only really surprising change over the past few months has been the decline in his favorable ratings; contrary to the prevailing narrative, they are only marginally better than Romney’s at this point.

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