The boost for President Obama in polls following the Democratic National Convention is a “classic polling bounce” which will fade in a few weeks, University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato tells Newsmax.
Sabato also says this year is the “last gasp” of four-day national conventions due to viewer disinterest.
And he predicts that with few voters remaining undecided, the key to the November election will not be which side attracts swing voters but who energizes the base and gets out the vote.
Sabato is a political science professor, author, and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. He is also the founder of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an online newsletter providing free political analysis.
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The most recent Rasmussen poll has Obama up by two points after trailing Mitt Romney by three points before the convention, and the latest Gallup poll has Obama ahead by three points.
Explaining Obama’s surge, Sabato says: “It was the convention, basically. This is a classic polling bounce. It’s a modest bounce historically and probably will fade in a couple of weeks’ time. Most of them do.
“The question isn’t why Obama got this bounce. The question really is why didn’t Mitt Romney get a bounce out of his convention. Frankly, we’re going to be studying that one because it’s not abundantly clear.”
Asked who made the single biggest impact at this year’s conventions, Sabato says: “If you had to pick one speaker, you’d pick Bill Clinton. He’s not called Big Dog for nothing. Frankly, he made a much better defense of the Obama administration than Obama has ever been able to muster.”
The two conventions have had an impact on the polls even though they were “the least watched, that’s for sure,” Sabato observes.
“That’s part of the problem today. You have multi-media, 100-plus channels most people get on their cable. They just don’t watch. All the audience figures are down from 2008 and the major networks don’t cover the conventions as much.
“Frankly, this was the last gasp of the four-day convention. Both of them, for different reasons, were cut down to three days, one at the last minute. I don’t think we’ll ever see a four-day convention again.”
He recommends a two-day convention, which “the major networks might cover a bit more than they do now.”
Romney appeared on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, and Sabato would have liked to have seen him be more specific about which tax deductions or loopholes he would eliminate.
“He could have mentioned a couple of less damaging proposals. After all, how many people have a second home? You eliminate the mortgage deduction for a second home. Something like that. That might have been to his advantage.
“On the other hand, I have to say the more specifics you offer in a campaign, the more you open yourself up for attack. That’s why the candidates tend to stay general in the last couple of months of the campaign.
“Every deduction has a particular constituency and they’re going to be motivated, potentially, to come out to vote against you if they find out that their deduction is going the way of the dodo. So I understand why he did what he did.”
Cuts in defense spending could be mandated at the end of the year, but Romney wants to keep defense spending at least at the current level of the GDP. Asked if that helps him in Virginia, Sabato responds: “It could help. The difficulty, again, is that the Democrats are saying the very same thing.
“I don’t know what they would actually do once the election’s over. That’s part of the problem with this election. We’re not discussing the really important things that have to be done in the month or two after the election to keep from going over the fiscal cliff. So it’s disappointing but it’s politics.”
As to how he expects the candidates to deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff” the nation faces due to spending cuts and tax increases scheduled after the end of the year, Sabato says: “I expect a lot of platitudes and, of course, a lot of attacks on the other side. Most of the attacks are justified but it doesn’t really get us any closer to a solution and doesn’t tell us what they really have in mind for post-November 6.
"They have things in mind, he added. "They’re just not telling us."
Sabato says he would like to see the fiscal cliff become the major issue of the campaign “because then maybe it would force the candidates to give us more specifics. I have no doubt that the moderators in the debates will try to pull out some specifics but it will be very much like pulling teeth and I’ll bet you both candidates keep all of their teeth.”
Sabato was asked what is more important at this point — appealing to swing voters or party members who are turned off and thinking about sitting this one out.
“You can’t ignore either one but you would certainly, in this year, pick base vocalization,” he responds.
“These recent bounce polls have the undecided vote at three percent. Three percent! Last time it was that low was 1996 in the Clinton-Dole race. You’ve got an incumbent. People have decided nay or yay on the incumbent for the most part. So the story of this election is going to be which side can enthuse their people, their partisans more than the other side, get them out at a higher rate. That is going to be the election.”
A judge’s decision in Ohio not to end early voting a few days earlier could give Obama a distinctive advantage in that crucial swing state. Sabato comments: “I wouldn’t say big advantage, but I’d say advantage.
“Little things can matter in a close election and this election could easily be very close. If you have an additional 90,000 votes cast, which is what many people on the ground in Ohio are projecting through this early voting process, you look at who those people are. Well, they’re tilted to the Democratic Party.
"That means maybe 25,000, 30,000 net additional votes to Obama because some of them would have voted in another way. If it’s a really close election, 25,000 or 30,000 votes can be the election.”
Turning to the races for the U.S. Senate, Sabato discusses which side faces the biggest challenge.
“Until recently, Democrats faced a much bigger challenge. They had many more of their people retiring. They had a lot more vulnerable, open seats.
“What a difference a few months makes. [Republican] Olympia Snowe’s retirement in Maine has pretty much turned that seat over to an Independent who’s very likely to side and caucus with the Democrats.
Look at the situation in Missouri. That was a ‘gimme’ for the Republicans before Todd Akin said what he said. Now, the seat leans to Claire McCaskill, although I’m still waiting for the possibility that Republicans will force Akin out. Any other Republican would have a pretty good chance of winning that seat.
“We’ve actually got the Senate, right now, at 48 to 48 with just four seats remaining to be determined. Those include the Massachusetts seat, Republican Scott Brown running for re-election; the Montana seat, Jon Tester, a Democrat running for re-election. The Virginia seat is a complete toss-up between Tim Kaine and George Allen. And the Missouri seat. Those four seats will determine whether the Senate goes majority to one party or whether it’s a 50-50 Senate with the vice president breaking the tie.
“If this were not a presidential year, Scott Brown would have that seat easily in Massachusetts. But it is. Obama’s going to win 58 percent, 60 percent in Massachusetts. That means Scott Brown has to win hundreds of thousands of votes from the Obama column. That makes it tough but far from impossible to win. He’s a strong candidate.
“In Montana, it’s the opposite. Senator Jon Tester, one-term Democrat, he has to get loads of Republican votes going to Romney to win a second term. Tough to do.
“In Virginia, it’s a pure coattail election. If Obama carries Virginia by any kind of decent margin, Tim Kaine is going to win the Senate seat. If Romney carries Virginia by any kind of decent margin, George Allen is going to win the Senate seat.”
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