The dead Perot bounce
Jonathan Bernstein writes about why Clinton's 1992 Democratic convention bump wasn't because of the excellence of the convention:
‘The Man From Hope’ ” video is still more vivid to me than any convention gimmick since.” Indeed, that video was almost certainly the best-ever of the genre; his speech was first-rate; and the stagecraft in general was well-done throughout the event.
And yet, that’s almost certainly not why Clinton received a monster convention bump (before the convention he was struggling to avoid being in third place; after, he rarely trailed). As Douthat mentions, the Ross Perot candidacy had a lot to do with it.
Steve Kornacki nails it in reply to Douthat: “Perot had drowned clinton out all spring. when convo started, most people still associated him mainly w/ scandal.” Indeed, to really understand the ebb and flow of polling in 1992, you have to go back to January, when Bill Clinton was introduced to the American people in a post-Super Bowl 60 Minutes appearance that was all about scandal. Then, as Kornacki remembers, Clinton never really received a normal spring bump from clinching the nomination, because that was when Perot mania was at its peak.
In other words, regardless of the quality of the convention, Clinton was poised for a large bounce because lots and lots of people who “should” have been Democratic voters in 1992 – weak Democrats, a fair number of pure independents, and perhaps even a decent number of solid Democrats – were not with him when the convention started. And what conventions do well is to convert those “should” voters into solid voters.
All that's true but it leaves out one vital and important fact. The convention was held in New York from July 13 to July 16, 1992. And it was good. So good that Perot announced he was dropping out of the race on the day of Clinton's acceptance speech, saying this:
"When we started in early summer," Mr. Perot said at a news conference here, "there was a climate there where we could win outright. The Democratic Party has revitalized itself. They've done a brilliant job, in my opinion, in coming back."
Now it's true that Perot's campaign was a shambles at this point, and the Dems were already making strides in the polls from the Al Gore announcement, but Perot dropping out in that moment was electrifying. The clear implication of his statement on the last day of the convention was that it had been so convincing that there was no need for old Ross to stay in the race now that the Democrats had gotten their shit together.
I don't dispute that Clinton may have had a bounce coming. But I have to believe that event had something to do with it. For that moment, it was as if Perot had handed his mandate to Clinton.
Didn't last, of course. Perot jumped back in and got the biggest third party vote in history.