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Will the Democratic convention bring Obama a poll bounce?

Barack Obama had a good convention, but it won’t win him the election. EPA/Shawn Thew

The Democratic National Convention went about as well as the party could hope. The question is, in this partisan political climate, will it be enough to move the polls?

The common narrative throughout the convention was best reflected by Bill Clinton’s declaration that “we’re all in this together.” In an individualistic society such as America, it’s a message that needs careful crafting.

But the communitarian vision the Democrats put forward wasn’t one of big government or large-scale wealth distribution. Rather, it centred on equality of opportunity; of having a fair shot at the American dream.

It worked. Michelle Obama’s speech was almost conservative in tone but made clear, that “when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity … you do not slam it shut behind you … you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

The president built on this idea in his discussion of citizenship. The bonds which tie Americans together, he explained, give rise to “certain obligations.” It was a more workmanlike speech from Obama than we are used to seeing. But, given the strength of his supporting cast, he didn’t need to carry the convention on his back.

All in all, two excellent speeches from the First Lady and Democratic legend Bill Clinton capped by a fairly strong address from the commander in chief. So, can Obama expect a decent convention bounce?

Not necessarily.

On average, the presidential candidate gets about a five point boost in the polls after their party convention. But, as political scientist Larry Sabato points out, the size of the bounce can vary rather dramatically. Sometimes a convention can greatly alter the shape of the race and sometimes it can have almost no impact whatsoever.

In the current era, you’re probably better off betting on the latter. Nowadays, voters are much more set in their political beliefs and party allegiance. A couple of speeches or negative campaign ads aren’t going to convince someone to abandon their beloved Republican Party or vice versa.

This phenomenon is well-illustrated in this year’s race. We keep waiting for something - be it the Bain attacks or Romney’s VP selection - to shift the momentum in one direction. But, through all the turmoil, the polls have remained fairly stable. Obama maintains a very narrow lead in the national race with a slightly bigger advantage in the key swing states.

True to form, the Republican convention didn’t generate much Mittmentum. Most of the major polls had either no change or only a modest boost for the Republican nominee.

But, it’s not as if Romney and Ryan deserved a huge popularity spike from the Republican convention. It wasn’t a total flop,but, but the Republicans never achieved the highs we saw this week in Charlotte from the Democrats. And Mitt Romney’s speech received the lowest marks of any presidential convention address since 1996.

As such, the polls that follow the Democratic convention should be revealing. Did the Republicans fail to get a bump because their convention was merely average? Or, do deeper structural factors mean neither of these conventions was ever going to change the race?

Given, party entrenchment; even a small boost could be significant. If Obama opens up a slightly bigger gap in the polls it could be very difficult for Romney catch him.

This election is shaping up to be quite close. But, it’s Mitt Romney, not Barack Obama, who should be the most worried about a continuance of the status quo. And, the Republicans just missed one of the best opportunities to recast the race.

If I’m Team Obama, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic coming out of Charlotte.

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