Sunday, September 02, 2012

Television ratings and post-convention bumps

By Richard K. Barry

Nate Silver's political observations at the New York Times are endlessly fascinating. This time he has drawn a comparison between television ratings for political conventions and the polling bounce the nominee is likely to get.

He writes:

It remains too early to tell exactly what effect the Republican National Convention has had on the polls. But television ratings are one measure that come in almost instantaneously. Ratings for the final two nights of the Republican convention were down quite a bit from 2008, declining by about 30 percent overall.

As he points out, this shouldn't surprise us too much considering the hype generated by the Palin pick in 2008 just before the convention compared to Romney choosing Ryan three weeks before. And then the Hurricane issue provided unwanted competition while heavy security kept protests to a minimum at the convention, which also limited the drama.

As for 2012 specifically, the bottom lime, as he writes, is probably in the more general fact that this election has simply not generated the kind of interest and excitement we saw in 2008.

But in general terms, Silver compares television rating numbers for national party conventions from 1968 on and finds an interesting correlation between viewership and post-convention bump, which is that the more people watch, the more a candidate can expect a bump.

As any good numbers guy will admit, though, the stats don't necessarily speak for themselves, as he writes:
It’s hard to tell where the causation lies in this relationship. Do fewer voters switch their voting preferences because fewer of them watched the convention on television? Or do fewer voters feel the need to watch the convention in the first place if more of them have already made up their minds?

But one point that seems obvious to me is that political conventions are well scripted affairs with the best public relations professionals directing the choreography. If they can get people to watch, they can move some vote. The trick is getting people to watch. In that sense, there should be a fairly direct correlation between viewership and bump.

The larger point here may be that candidate who is behind, Romney in this case, needs to gets people's attention if he hopes to persuade them to change their vote. If his poor convention ratings are any indication, he really has no way to do that. There is just nothing that exciting going on here.

It's hard to see how Mitt Romney is going to get voters to tune in, both literally and metaphorically, to his message between now and November, though he will have lots of money to try.

Obviously, Romney's team is hoping that zillions of dollars in political ads in swing states will wash over voters to help persuade the persuadable. My guess is that voters general lack of interest in the GOP convention will translate into a lack of interest in his political ads. We are all very good at tuning out what doesn't interest us, even if it's on the TV right in front of us at increased decibel levels.

Neither the plot nor the main characters of the Romney-Ryan movie are compelling enough to grab our attention. I don't see that changing.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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