Playing the expectations game is a time-honored tradition of politicos. When setting expectations for yourself, the idea is to go low -- so that even a middling performance can be spun as an achievement.
When setting expectations for your opponent, the idea is to set them high. So high they can't be met.
Thus, see the McCain campaign memo just sent out to reporters. By their standard, if Obama does not magically become president of the United States at the end of the Democratic convention, his performance will have been a failure.
Well, not quite. But they do set the bar pretty high, predicting a 15-point poll bump for Obama.
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Sarah Simmons, Director of Strategy
RE: Obama's Convention Bounce
DATE: August 22, 2008
Monday marks the beginning of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. A combination of factors makes this particular convention historic on many levels. Democrats have just completed an incredibly compelling primary cycle that has both energized and divided the Democratic Party. Because of the unique nature of the Democratic primary, we believe Obama will receive a significant bump from his convention.
This cycle mirrors Bill Clinton's Democratic convention in 1992: A historic 16-point bump. Barack Obama is more similarly situated to Bill Clinton in 1992 than any other candidate in recent history. Bill Clinton was a new candidate on the national scene; he was running in a "change" oriented election cycle and the economy was voters' top issue -- a dynamic he was able to capitalize on. He received a 16-point bump coming out of his convention. Obama is also a "new" candidate in a change-oriented environment. And, like Bill Clinton, he will spend the convention presenting himself as the agent of change who will fix the economy.
Obama will ride his VP bump. In addition to Obama taking advantage of the political environment, he will announce his Vice Presidential candidate late this week. This announcement typically gives a candidate a 5-point temporary bump that dissipates. However, Obama's timing allows him to maximize his Vice Presidential bump and sustain press attention for the course of the week. He will ride the wave of an announcement from late this week (announcement expected by Saturday) through his speech on Thursday. This means that whatever bump he gains from the announcement has the potential to be lasting.
Obama will correct his underperformance with Hillary Clinton's primary voters and emerge with a much more cohesive base. This convention gives Obama a platform to unite his base. There continues to be a divide in the Democratic base: Between 10-15% of Democrats are voting for McCain or sitting on the fence. In target states, that number is even higher, between 15-20% in many surveys. The Obama campaign knows that winning or losing in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania depends on Obama's ability to bring these voters home. If his convention successfully showcases Hillary Clinton and heals the wounds from the primary, he will move large groups of voters in those key places.
Obama's stadium address on Thursday -- the 45th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech -- will result in effusive and overwhelming press coverage. On Thursday, Obama will give a great speech, as has been his trademark. The press will sing his praises and remark on his historic address and Obama's place in history. For example, The Associated Press today published an article comparing the historic nature of the addresses - a week before Obama's speech. This coverage will be impenetrable and will undoubtedly impact the polls.
We believe Obama will see a significant bump, and believe it is reasonable to expect nearly a 15-point bounce out of a convention in this political environment.
The Obama campaign was not flattered. "Presidential races are close, and we expect this one to be no different," says Obama campaign senior strategist Robert Gibbs. "But they should figure out how to spin the fact that John McCain owns a dozen houses and thinks the fundamentals of our economy are strong before trying to spin our convention."