Convention: In Politics, Timing Can Be Everything

by Stuart Rothenberg August 26, 2012 · 11:00 PM EDT

As a reformed political scientist who still looks closely at polls and is always knee-deep in past electoral results, I understand that people are impressed by statistical analysis, even when it creates a faulty sense of precision. But what makes politics so fascinating is the unexpected development, the unquantifiable act.

All of the talk about past and future convention public opinion “bounces” is interesting, but there has been far too little attention to a potentially crucial development that could impact the Democratic convention bounce (if there is one), and the entire presidential race in the next two weeks.

This year, President Obama will accept his party’s nomination on Thursday, September 6. But less than 12 hours after the president concludes his speech, on Friday, September 7, at 8:30 am Eastern Time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the August unemployment rate and new jobs numbers. Those could have a huge impact on the race for president, overshadowing Obama’s speech and the entire Democratic convention.

A strong jobs report surely would boost the president’s numbers and prospects, adding to any momentum from his party’s convention, just as very weak numbers could turn the race from a toss-up or one in which Obama holds a slight advantage to one in which he is an underdog.

The timing of the August jobs report couldn’t be worse for the White House.

A strong jobs report surely would boost the president’s prospects and standing in the polls, but good results would do that whether or not he had just come out of his convention.

A bad jobs report, indicating higher unemployment, weak job growth or, unthinkable for the president’s strategists, little or no job growth at all, would not only add to the public’s pessimism about the future, it could also paint the Democrats – after three days of hoopla in Charlotte – as out of touch and undermine everything the party hoped to accomplish at its convention.

So, while President Obama will likely give a compelling speech after a well-orchestrated convention that presents his achievements, offers his vision for a second term and both mocks and demonizes the Republican ticket, it could easily be over-shadowed less than 24 hours later, depending on the results of the August jobs numbers and unemployment rate.