Please visit the new home of Majikthise at bigthink.com/blogs/focal-point.

« Help a great photojournalist break a story | Main | FDA funnelled money through AK native corp to DC PR firm »

October 02, 2008

The "expectations game" is stupid

Reuters reports that the "expectations game is in full swing" ahead of tonight's vice presidential debates.

According to conventional wisdom, it's better for a candidate to surpass low expectations than to fall short of high expectations.

So, we're treated to the unusual spectacle of partisans throwing cold water on their preferred candidates and lavishly praising the other side.

We've got Obama's right hand man, David Plouffe proclaiming that Sarah Palin is one of the best debaters in American politics.

Perhaps the most ridiculous example of this tactic was when Republican operative Matthew Dowd said that John Kerry was a better debater than Cicero.

Is there any evidence that this ritual actually works? It's better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to disappoint.

Then again, we see what we expect to see. That's what the soft bigotry of low expectations is all about. When we start with low expectations, we're apt to seize on evidence that confirms our belief--and vice versa.

Does anyone have any empirical evidence to support the notion that artificially distorting expectations works? Or is this just another irrational pregame ritual?

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c61e653ef010535222dd0970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The "expectations game" is stupid:

Comments

"Perhaps the most ridiculous example of this tactic was when Republican operative Matthew Dowd said that John Kerry was a better debater than Cicero."

Fairer than Homer, a better debater than Cicero, and a sweeter voice than anyone before the advent of recording technology.

I read the first word and stopped right there. Reuters? Fox news wannabe?

The expectation game is even more stupid as far as it doesn't reach the ordinary folks that are going to watch the debate.
It's nothing but a punditocracy idiotic ritual, a preparation for the post-debate spin.
By the way I'm longing to the day when Lindsay will be one of those "political analyst" that debate after the debate to discuss who won and who lost. I f that ever happens to you, Lindsay, please don't abandon your irritating, yet refreshing authenticity.

During the debate, the candidates were asked which branch the vice-presidency belongs to.
====================================================================================================
GWEN IFILL: Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?

SARAH PALIN: Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.

GWEN IFILL: Vice President Cheney's interpretation of the vice presidency?

JOSEPH BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.
====================================================================================================

http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/02/debate.transcript/

The Bush Economy

I was walking
down the isle
of the grocery store
and I heard
a little boy
ask his mother,

"Mommy,
can we buy
dog food
with
food stamps?"


poem by John Hulse from The Best and Worst Job I Ever Had (1985-2005)


"...a better debater than Cicero..."


All I can say to that, Cass, is: O tempora! O mores!

I don't have direct evidence, but jeff Hawkins argues the neocortex runs on a common cortical algorithm. In music mf sounds louder after pp then after ff. In vision, you have the ebbinghaus illusion. So, by analogy, lots of other parts of your neocortex work the same way. I think these perceptual effects are excellent reasons to think this bit of conventional thinking might be true, at least if jeff Hawkins is close to right.

oh good lord, there are tons of studies on this subject...

Biden's answer doesn't make sense, because while it seems clear that the Vice PResident is part of the Executive Branch, that's not because of anything in Article I. Article I pertains to the legislative branch, and the only thing Article I says about the vice president is that he's the president of the Senate. If you relied on Article I to define the role of the Vice President, you probably would conclude he's part of the legislative branch.

Yes, there are whole sub-disciplines of experimental psychology devoted to studying the effects of expectations on perception.

My question is whether there's any good evidence to support the expectations game, as it is played ahead of presidential debates. In a controlled experimental setting, you can manipulate perceptions based on expectations. That's not the same as saying that in a real campaign artificially lowering expectations is a net benefit to a candidate.

Does it really help for campaign operatives to suddenly shift from talking up their candidate and denigrating your opponent to praising your opponent and downplaying your candidate's strengths? That's really a multi-part question. First, do the surrogates actually change people's expectations? Does anyone really believe Plouffe that Palin is one of America's great debaters? How many voters hear him say so anyway?

I'm not sure I buy the lowered expectations business in these debates. I wasn't expecting Palin to drool on her shirt. I was expecting Palin to do exactly what she did, and was of course carefully coached to do. To wit: deflect any question for which she had no ready facts and figures (most of them), reflexively parrot carefully tailored “facts” that her handlers had primed her with whenever appropriate, play up the “hockey mom” faux populist shtick, wave the flag, throw in a little soldier worship, recite the standard Republican mantras, and smile. She did it perfectly. She still doesn't know diddly-squat about what a potential president should know, but she comes delivered in a nice package with a red, white, and blue bow, and that's probably good enough to get the votes they need. The people who'll vote McCain/Palin don't judge Palin by the same standards you or I do. They watch the Katie Couric interviews and think Palin did very well. Their expectations never were lowered.

As to the question of whether the surrogates actually change people's expectations, I rather doubt that people are paying much attention to the surrogates on this score.

The format of the debate more or less guaranteed that Palin would perform better than she did in the Couric interviews. Even with softest softball interviews there's a social norm that the interviewee will answer the interviewers questions, or dodge them in such a way as to respect the conversational theme that the questioner has set up. If you ignore that basic human rule, you seem crazy.

What I hate about presidential debates is that they're just extemporaneous public speaking contests with no way to force the participants to engage with each other or answer the questions. Palin is a trained newscaster, so I expected her to be able to rattle off her talking points--albeit in whatever order they happened to flash across the teleprompter in her mind's eye.

Even with softest softball interviews there's a social norm that the interviewee will answer the interviewers questions, or dodge them in such a way as to respect the conversational theme that the questioner has set up. If you ignore that basic human rule, you seem crazy.

She didn't just "ignore" the rule last night, she explicitly scoffed at it. She said early on that she was going to talk about what she wanted to talk about, the opponent and moderator be damned.

It's hard not to be awed by the sheer chutzpah. I imagine it's very effective where the base is concerned--the wingnuts, who were already primed to see Ifill as The Enemy, were probably thrilled to hear "You can ask any question you want, but this is my show, and there ain't a damn thing you can do about it."

Ifill, of course, let her get away with it. To do otherwise would have been impolite.

She didn't just "ignore" the rule last night, she explicitly scoffed at it.

Which struck me as particularly offensive. Palin starts with a rhetorical signing statement. Swell.

“while it seems clear that the Vice PResident is part of the Executive Branch, that's not because of anything in Article I.”

You're right. The VP is defined in Article II.

”The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows...“

Palin on VP responsibilities and purview. - I can't tell from her rambling answer if she's actually read the job description. It's only a couple sentences in the constitution, it shouldn't be too difficult for someone who reads ALL the newspapers.

"Even with softest softball interviews there's a social norm that the interviewee will answer the interviewers questions, or dodge them in such a way as to respect the conversational theme that the questioner has set up. If you ignore that basic human rule, you seem crazy."

Indeed. Remember
Paul Grice's conversational maxims?

(1) Maxim of Quality: Be truthful.
(2) Maxim of Quantity: Be informative.
(3) Maxim of Relation: Be relevant.
(4) Maxim of Manner: Be perspicuous.

But once you've defenestrated (1), why trouble with the others?

The comments to this entry are closed.