Jen, you allude to the fact, but don’t quite go at it directly: If the Gallup tracking poll number stays consistent tomorrow, McCain will have received a huge upward “bounce,” a swing of at least 11 points in his direction. (Tracking polls measure an average of three polling nights; each night the poll adds a new day and drops the oldest day.) McCain began beating Obama in the tracking poll on Friday and continued doing so on Saturday; there’s little reason to think that will change on Sunday. If it holds, this will be one of the most dramatic bounces on record; Bill Clinton, who had the largest bounce we know of, rose in 1992 either by 12 points (according to CBS/New York Times) or 16 (according to Gallup).
Two things differ about this bounce. First, the Republican convention took place so late that it has less time to dissipate. This is not to say the shift toward McCain is a solid one. The bounce is, like any other political phenomenon, transitory if it does not become the basis for more aggressive pursuit of victory. If McCain’s newfound support is not ballasted by more excitement and enthusiasm generated by the McCain/Palin ticket or by mistakes by Obama/Biden, it won’t make much of a difference.
Second, it strikes me that this particular bounce will be far more demoralizing to the Democrats than if, say, McCain had enjoyed an eight-point swing with Mitt Romney as his running mate. The wild-card addition of Sarah Palin has mixed up everybody’s expectations about the race. The puzzled inability of Democrats to understand the deep nature of her appeal, aside from conceding that she makes a good speech, is the sort of thing that introduces a nervous-making sense of insecurity.
It was exactly the same way for many Republicans and conservatives, watching the Night of Obama with the 80,000 throng and the fireworks — How on earth can we compete with this? It’s nonsense but the public is sure to eat it up, and we just can’t match it. Democrats are surely feeling the same weird combination of extreme skepticism mixed with confused fear. It was the last thing they expected, and the psychic impact of the sense that their understanding of the American electorate might be slipping away is both impossible to measure and impossible to ignore.