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All Lies and Jest

September 1, 2012

Such are promises
All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.

Paul Simon, “The Boxer”

The Republicans have wrapped up their convention, and at least until the last night they were having trouble making themselves heard.  The scheduled first day of the convention was canceled, and the second and third days battled for attention with Hurricane Isaac.  The broadcast networks cut their live coverage almost to nothing, and the cable news channels didn’t cover the convention so much as throw food fights nearby.  Even those few inclined to report on the convention as news spent much of their time parsing the truth of the statements made from the podium.  Through it all, we saw what may have been the most policy-free national party convention ever.

The convention speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday were quite unnotable.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave his touted keynote address like a fish out of water – obviously he is much more comfortable with hand-to-hand combat at a press conference than at a podium in a convention hall.

Christie’s challenge to put respect before love followed just minutes after Ann Romney tried to persuade us that we should vote for Mitt Romney because she loves him and he loves us.  Paul Ryan’s speech sent commentators into fact-checking frenzies.  The discussion wasn’t about whether anything he said was true, it was about which of his statements were incomplete and misleading and which were simply false.

Given how much happier the Republican base is with its vice presidential candidate than with its presidential candidate, it was certainly a good thing for Republicans that Mitt Romney’s speech on closing night was one of the high points of the convention.  Romney conveyed passion, countering the robotic image he has developed.  I suppose that was a breakthrough, but I think Romney still came across like a father-character from a late 1950s-early 1960s sitcom, the kind of guy who wore a tie to the family dinner table, and chastised his children when they used words like “heck.”  For a presidential nominee trying to get our votes, Romney had remarkably little to say about what he would do if he won.

Another high point was Clint Eastwood’s dialog with President Obama sitting mute and invisible in a chair next to the podium.  Reports have been that Republican politicos were embarrassed by Eastwood’s antics, which they seem to think came across as dotty.  I personally thought Eastwood’s jest was funny.  Evidently, so did President Obama – the presidential tweetmeisters put out a photo of the back of the presidential head in a big executive chair, with the caption, “this seat’s taken.”

The Romney campaign no doubt timed the announcement of its selection of Ryan to get a polling double-bounce going into the Democratic convention next week.  Romney announced his selection of Ryan on Saturday, August 11.  By my calculations, the Ryan selection bounce peaked just 11 days later, on Wednesday, August 22.  And a weak little bounce it was – FiveThirtyEight’s computer model projection of Romney’s chances of winning the election had moved only from 26.7 percent to 33.3 percent.  By Monday, FiveThirtyEight had Romney back down to a 30.7 percent chance of victory, and during the convention his odds sank even further, to 28.4 percent Thursday.

Romney has done somewhat better in the polls – RealClearPolitics shows Romney just half a percent behind Obama in its polling average.  The key difference here between RCP and 538 is that 538 discounts bounces.  Nate Silver has calculated the average polling bounce that candidates get by announcing their running mates and by holding their conventions.  If Romney’s bounce is bigger than average, his chances of winning go up; if his bounce is smaller than average, his chances of winning go down.

I seriously doubt that the Democratic convention will be as listless for President Obama as the Republican convention was for Mitt Romney.  I expect that Obama will bounce up to a three- or four-point lead in the next 10 days or so.  The debates will decide whether Obama wins the popular vote by four points or by more.

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