Last week in this space, I argued that we are better off looking beyond "the bounce" as measured in polls to more specific measures of what voters learn from the conventions and whether their views of the candidates have changed. Today I want to try to follow that advice.
Yes, in six different national surveys released early this week*, support for Barack Obama has increased, so the Democrat has experienced a modest bounce. While the magnitude of the change differs, all six polls have Obama gaining, with most of the shift coming from the undecided category.
However, convention bumps can be fleeting, and as noted last week, the unique timing of this year's conventions makes historical comparisons problematic. So rather than obsess on the metaphysical meaning of the bump, let's look beyond the horse race to the "internals" -- questions within the latest surveys that show how voter perceptions of the candidates changed over the last week.
Three themes emerge from the data. First, Obama succeeded in bolstering his image as a tough, strong leader who Americans can imagine as their president.
• Diageo/Hotline [PDF] reports a 15-point increase, from 25 percent to 40 percent, in the number of respondents who say Obama has done an excellent job "presenting himself as a potential president."
• CBS News found a 10-point increase, from 48 percent to 58 percent since July, in the percentage that describes Obama as "tough enough."
• USA Today/Gallup shows Obama gaining 6 points, from 40 percent to 46 percent, as a "strong and decisive leader." He now leads John McCain by 2 points on that measure (46 percent to 44 percent), having trailed by 8 (40 percent to 48 percent) just 10 days ago.
Second, Obama's efforts to "spell out exactly" what changes he would make as president had the desired effect. CBS News found half of its sample (50 percent) saying that Obama "has made it clear what he would do as president," a 9-point increase (from 41 percent) since before the convention.
Third, voters have resolved the skirmish between the campaigns on "elitism," for the moment at least, in favor of the Democrats. The Diageo/Hotline poll shows a 12-point jump, from 32 percent to 44 percent, in those who say Obama is greatly "in touch with the interests of the average American." Similarly, the CBS News survey shows nearly two-thirds of the voters (63 percent) agree that Obama "understands the needs of people like yourself," compared with only 41 percent who say the same about McCain.
However, many core perceptions of Obama remain the same. His favorable rating as measured by USA Today/Gallup and CBS News is virtually unchanged, while Diageo/Hotline shows a slight increase (from 55 percent to 60 percent favorable).
CBS News also found no change in the number of respondents who agree Obama "has prepared himself well enough for the job of president" (44 percent before and after the convention), although the number who say that Obama is not prepared has dropped slightly (from 49 percent to 43 percent).
While the past week helped deepen and change perceptions of Obama, neither the Democratic convention nor the announcement of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential pick has made much of a dent in perceptions of John McCain.
McCain's favorable ratings as measured by Diageo/Hotline and CBS News are virtually unchanged over the last 10 days. USA Today/Gallup reports a slight drop (from 59 percent to 54 percent favorable), which parallels a modest increase (from 41 percent to 47 percent) in those who are "very concerned" that McCain "would pursue policies that are too similar to what George W. Bush has pursued."
Still, virtually all of the changes are on the Obama side of the ledger. Next week, we will be able to assess the impact of Republican convention.
*The six new polls are: Gallup Daily, Rasmussen Reports, CBS News, Diageo/Hotline, CNN/Opinion Research Corp., USA Today/Gallup.
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