By Larry Levine –
A favorite game TV pundits like to play after a political convention is to discuss the bounce a candidate gets from the four days of exposure. That means how much the candidate’s polling numbers bounce up, as then inevitably do.
We can expect two things following this week’s Democratic National Convention:
1. The Biden – Harris ticket will not receive much of a bounce if any and there will be two good reasons why; and
2. Many pundits will wring their hands over why there wasn’t a bigger bounce and will get the reasons wrong.
The real reasons are a) Biden – Harris have a bigger than usual lead going in and that leaves fewer people to for a bounce, and b) figuratively, almost no one is watching.
Veteran pollster Gene Bregman did some research and found that Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump before the Democratic convention in 2016 was one point on the NBC network poll and four points each on ABC and YouGov. The two candidates were tied on CBS. Those same polls before this week’s convention had Biden up by 10, 9, 10, and 10.
Undecideds in those four polls before this week’s convention were 6, 9, 2, and 10. The undecideds four years ago were double those numbers.
So, with that many people already having chosen a candidate, the only place to get a bounce would be to win over voters from the other candidate. That gets really difficult when we look at the TV ratings and realize backers of the other candidate (Trump) are virtually ignoring the convention.
The first night of this week’s convention drew 18.68 viewers to broadcast and cable TV outlets combined. The big three – ABC, CBS and NBC – are broadcasting just one hour of the virtual convention and had just 6.7 million viewers at the start of their hour. That’s down 42 percent from the first night four years ago. Cable stations MSNBC, CNN and Fox News made up the balance. They are carrying two hours of the convention. Their overall, first night viewership was down 27 percent from four years ago.
The second night numbers dropped slightly more. Overall 18.2 million watched. The 6.13 million viewers on broadcast television networks represent a 48 percent drop from the second night four years ago.
As for the second night on cable networks, MSNBC led the way with 4.6 million viewers in the three-hour time slot from 8 to 11 EDT. CNN was second with 3.6 million and Fox News third with 3.5 million. That was a five percent increase for MSNBC over the first night and a three percent increase for Fox. CNN dropped 12 percent. Fox of course is the home network for conservatives, who apparently have decided they will let Trump tweet them the news from the convention.
Biden campaign spokesperson T.J. Ducklo attempted to put a better face on the situation by pointing out the campaign is producing a “digital convention” that drew an additional 10 million viewers. Even if that number is accurate, when added to TV viewership, less than 10 percent of the country is watching.
I’ve spoken with diehard Democrats who support Biden and detest Trump but told me they aren’t watching. One said, “It’s just an info-mercial, no drama, no pageantry.” The other switched over to catch the score of the Dodger game and never went back. Pre-taped speeches with no audience reaction don’t draw and hold eyeballs.
As sure as I am writing this and you are reading it, there will be post-election pundits who blame the lack of a significant bounce for Biden – Harris on a dull non-convention. They will be partially correct. Others will criticize the production values of the non-convention. They should be invited to tell us what they would have done differently given the constraints. And there will be those who place the blame on what they will call a lackluster nominee. They will be wrong. That lackluster nominee has a lead so large that there aren’t many people around to bounce.