August 02, 2004,
That dull thud you hear may be the John Kerry flop of 2004.
The media wanted a post-convention bounce for the Democrats' presidential nominee. The Washington Post, acting as political consultant, highlighted the rosy findings of its convention focus groups among swing voters. They tried.
But polling suggests that the Boomer centric "Boston Me Party" that nominated John F. Kerry, may have been a flop. The most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Friday and Saturday (the best time to measure a possible post-convention bounce), actually found Bush ahead of Kerry 50 percent to 47 percent among likely voters and behind Kerry by three points among registered voters in a two-way race. In a three-way race this research found Bush ahead 50 percent to 46 percent among likely voters and tied at 47 percent among registered voters.
This could be the bounce that wasn't.
A raft of surveys will come out in the next few days. If most of the others find the same weak response to the Democrats' convention of "strength," they will have proven our polling firm has been saying for some time now. Getting a significant bounce in a closely divided, ideologically polarized country is very difficult.
While it is clear from this research that the Kerry campaign shifted some perceptions of its product, Democratic officials have to be troubled that the Boston repackaging generated so few additional buyers.
The survey does suggest that they made the product look and feel more presidential to potential buyers. For example, 57 percent (up from 53 percent) now agree that the new and improved, extra-"strength" Democratic product has the "personality and leadership qualities" a president should have. Who knows? Maybe it was the salute.
But, don't blame the product managers. They ran a well-scripted and brilliantly deceptive convention. They hid Teresa Heinz Kerry and Teddy Kennedy in early convention speaking slots, toned down the hate, and muzzled any overt discussion of the issues that actually animate the convention delegates. They did all they could to make their product look and feel like a "strong" and moderate John McCain. They may yet be successful.
And how about that all-important "strength" metric the Democrats were trying to move? This weekend's poll suggests the new Democratic "extra-strength" product made some headway, moving from a 17-point deficit in a head-to-head match-up with Bush to a nine-point deficit. President Bush, however, is still considered the more strong and decisive candidate by 51 percent of the voters and leads Kerry by 12 points on who voters trust most to fight terrorism.
Did the Kerry campaign get a bounce for its product? At this point, the answer appears to be no.
Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.