SOUTH BEND — In sports, a lot depends on the way the ball bounces. In presidential politics, a lot depends – or at least it often has – on the way the convention bounces. Traditionally, a presidential nominee gets a bounce upward in the polls after the nominee’s national political convention.

Since I’ve had the good fortune in the past to cover 20 national conventions, 10 Republican, 10 Democratic, I’ve written a lot about the bounces, about the expectations of the delegates in the convention hall, about the projections of the pundits and about the actual bounce or lack thereof in the polls after delegates and pundits depart the convention site.

The conventions this month will be different. Very different. No packed convention hall. No wild demonstrations of support for the presidential nominee. No balloon drop as the convention reaches a finale, with enthusiasm up as thousands of balloons come down.

The conventions, still needed to officially name nominees and set a tone for the party, this time will be virtual, not traditional in a packed hall, because of the pandemic that has grown worse in this country.

I always enjoyed leaving the press platform to push through the crowded aisles to reach the Indiana or Michigan delegation, get some quick quotes from the governor or senators or area delegates and struggle back before the floor pass expired. Now, of course, such crowded aisles and delegates squished together would be life threatening.

Will TV ratings for virtual conventions be high or dismal? Will there be much of a bounce in the polls for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump after their respective conventions this month? We don’t know.

The way either convention bounces won’t decide the election. But how voters view the events still could have significance in determining which party gains or loses momentum as days to the election dwindle.

If the election were to come next Tuesday, Biden likely would win, though it wouldn’t be a sure thing. Election forecast guru Nate Silver puts the chances of a Biden win at 71%. That, by the way, is the exact percentage Silver had for Hillary Clinton in his last projection before the 2016 election.

A big bounce for Biden, after the Democratic Convention this week, after voters hear the speeches from various sites rather than from an arena of cheering delegates, and after they evaluate as well the selection of Kamala Harris for vice president, would extend Biden’s lead in the polls, diminishing Trump’s chances to catch up. A more modest bounce of 2 or 3 percentage points would not chance things very much, with Trump having a chance to match that or close the gap with a bigger bounce in his convention.

No bounce at all, such as John Kerry suffered after the 2004 Democratic Convention, could signal a looming disaster.

The national pundits could get it wrong, so wait until the major polls are in after this week. For example, a lot of the evaluation by analysts as that ’04 convention ended was that Democrats had played it smart, with Kerry and other speakers avoiding attacking President George W. Bush and sticking to a positive theme of bringing America together to face challenges at home and abroad. Voters say they want a positive message. So, Kerry was right? Wrong.

He got no bounce. Bush bounced back with a Republican Convention that captured attention with ridicule and mockery of the Democratic ticket as weak and woeful. Some pundits thought that would turn off voters. It turned a lot of them on as Bush climbed to victory.

Just as the way the ball bounces can affect the outcome in sports, the way the convention bounces – or maybe doesn’t bounce at all for a nominee – could affect the outcome of this presidential election. 

Colwell covers Indiana politics for the South Bend Tribune.