The DNC was a far better infomercial than the RNC and the reward should be a Clinton bump that erases the RNC Trump bump. But hold on–much in the same way that the polls this week after the RNC gave a distorted picture of the race the same will be true next week. The real election begins about August 8, and it will be an election about fear.
From beginning to end the DNC was a better made-for-TV event than the RNC. And ratings prove it. While all the results are not in, the DNC for its first two nights attracted about 4-5 million more viewers than the RNC. I suspect the same will be for night three that featured Obama, Bill Clinton, and Biden, and also for the last night where millions (especially women) watched a historic night on television. Simply having more people watch the DNC than the RNC should translate into a larger potential bump.
But there are other reasons to think the bump might be stronger for Clinton than it was for Trump. The DNC had better speakers and despite stories of some disgruntled Sanders people, all the Democrats came to the convention whereas many Republicans stayed away from the RNC. Both the Republicans and Democrats are divided parties, yet by comparison the Republicans were and remain more divided. Democrats did a better job constructing a positive narrative for America and generally optimism plays better than pessimism, although they too did use fear–fear of Trump–as a major theme. They did a great job criticizing Trump, making the case to why he should not be elected (Clinton herself was especially good on this). Simply put, the Democrats messaged better and that should reap benefits in terms of a post convention bump.
Purely guessing at this point, Clinton should be able to negate almost all of Trump’s bump, placing the election and polls about where they where prior to the two conventions–a race where Clinton is probably slightly ahead and still favored to win, although it will be close. She still has the fund raising and organizational advantages she had before, and now perhaps with a slightly more unified party she perhaps is even a little stronger than she was before the conventions. I will give her a 55-60% chance of winning.
But having said that, there are still reasons to think she can lose and there are opportunities that were missed at the convention. First, for most Democrats the Wasserman-Schultz DNC email has passed. But not for many critical Sanders voters and supporters. Yes I have seen claims that 90% of the Sanders people are with Clinton now but many are young voters and I am still not sure they will actually turnout for her.
Second, indicative of Clinton’s worries about the liberal base turning out was her speech. It was a speech to unify the party and not one that spoke to the general public and more particularly the swing or undecided voters who switched dramatically to Trump after the RNC. The battle for the presidency is among the swing voters in the swing states and it is here that Clinton still has core problems. Third, the speech was powerful in criticizing Trump but thin in offering her narrative about her vision for her presidency. She offered a few brief micro-narratives about what she wants to do, but like Trump’s speech it too was thin on policy specifics. It had some policy ideas but not details. This is course has been the problem with her campaign all along–no grand narrative but a promise of incrementalism that is hard to excite anyone. Fourth, it is also not clear that selling incrementalism and tinkering with the status quo sells in a year when so many people want change and anti-establishment is the theme of 2016.
Fifth, it is not clear her speech addressed the core trinity of problems with her personally–like-ability, trustworthiness, and the passion gap. Her speech seemed more to say I am better trusted to steer the country than Trump, but that of course assumes one likes the status quo and two that criticizing him is enough to move voters behind her. In effect, Clinton too used fear as a basis of why people should voter for her. For Trump it is fear of crime and terrorism, for Clinton it is fear of Trump and his finger on the nuclear code. I am waiting for Clinton to update and rerun the famous 1964 LBJ Daisy ad that was used so effectively against Goldwater.
My simple points are first that yes the DNC and Clinton had a good week and they will get a bump, but there are still underlying structural issues that Clinton faces that the convention and her speech did not resolve. Second, whatever the polls say come Monday ignore them for a week and let’s look at what they say around August 8, to give us a real picture of what the race is like. My sense is that this is an election about fear, with it being used to motivate both Trump and Clinton as reasons to vote, but in slightly different ways.