For most of my life, I have employed what I like to call The Policy of Low Expectations, or PO*LE’ (in my family, we pronounce it with two syllables and make it sound French). We joke about it a lot, but it has a useful function. If you expect a party, movie, sporting event or whatever to be fantastic and it’s not, you may be disappointed even if it’s still very good. If you go in thinking it may not be that great, you’re much more likely to come out happy.
Normally, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. I tend to be optimistic about the current situation or how things are going to work out. I can generally find a bright side when people are upset about something or have a general complaint about the state of affairs, but it’s different if it’s a movie, vacation or other thing in which I’m spending money. That’s probably the key – money. If it’s costing me something, I prefer to have low expectations and be pleasantly surprised.
If you’ve been reading my recent posts, that glass half-full thing might seem out of character. Yesterday, for example, I posted that several of the presidential candidates’ tax plans would bankrupt the country rather quickly. But here’s how I’m an optimist; I am convinced that I can get the word out and inform the electorate so the voters make wise, informed decisions in November. You must admit, that’s pretty optimistic (or perhaps delusional).
The development of the Policy of Low Expectations began when I went to see a movie with my girlfriend in high school. Before you jump to any conclusions about what my high expectations might have been, it was related to the movie, not the girlfriend. Every funny scene in the movie – and there weren’t many – had been shown in the television commercials. Talk about disappointment. This policy was refined when my wife and I watched Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown a second time many years after the first showing. I swear that we were in tears from laughing so much the first time we watched it, but it just wasn’t all that funny the second time. So, now I prepare myself. Something I enjoyed so much upon first exposure may not be as good the next time. We’re headed to Italy for the second time soon, but it’s hard to have low expectations about Italy.
On some news program last night, I discovered that I am not the only one with this policy. The Clinton campaign has been lowering expectations because of what could be a large Sanders victory in today’s New Hampshire primary. They have been reminding people that New Hampshire neighbors Sanders’ home state of Vermont, so of course he has an advantage. Now if Clinton comes within 10% of Sanders’ totals, it will be viewed by many of her supporters as a victory.
Both Clinton and Trump – especially Trump – learned the hard way that high expectations in Iowa last week made both of their results seem like bad losses. Clinton won the caucus, but by such a slim margin after losing a huge lead over the past few months. The media helped raise the expectations for Clinton when they reported that, because Sanders’ support was geographically limited to a few college towns, he would not be able to win the caucus which benefitted the candidate with the greatest support throughout the state. With these expectations, Clinton’s narrow Iowa win seemed like a defeat.
For Trump, the expectations were even higher – he set them there. Even when the polls showed a race too close to call, he declared that he would win because he never lost anything. His 3.3% loss to Cruz – 8 awarded delegates to 7 – was viewed as much more of a defeat than the numbers showed. I don’t think Trump ever really understood the Iowa voter. Cruz’ comments that Trump had New York City values was a very clever attack. For most of the republican caucus-goers in Iowa, farm and fundamentalists issues are the most important. Cruz’ past criticism of ethanol subsidies – his most important negative in Iowa – was overcome by Trump acting arrogant, calling the voters stupid for a history of choosing candidates who do not become the party’s nominee, and his New York City values, as labeled by Cruz.
Imagine instead, if in the days leading up to the caucus, Trump had said something about how appreciative he is for his Iowa supporters and that he knows the people have a tough choice to make. He would acknowledge that the high percentage of evangelical voters in the state have an important decision to make, but he hopes they will agree with Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., that he is the right choice for the country. Then he could throw in his endorsement from Sen. Chuck Grassley and thus remind the voters about Cruz’ past position on ethanol subsidies. There could have been a different outcome, or if the same, he could have spun it into a victory by saying it was an uphill battle considering Cruz’ support from evangelicals.
So voting has begun in the New Hampshire primary and both Clinton and Trump have taken lessons from Iowa. The Clinton campaign has lowered expectations and is probably ready to spin the results, and Trump has been much nicer to the New Hampshire voters than he was to those in Iowa. Some of the other candidates for the republican nomination have been lowering their followers expectations as well. This is especially true for the three governors – Bush, Christie and Kasich. All have invested heavily in New Hampshire and they have decent poll numbers, but there’s an interesting quirk about how delegates are awarded from this primary.
The 20 delegates are divided proportionately based on the vote, but only to candidates who receive at least 10%. The delegates that would have gone to the candidates who received less than 10% of the vote go to the winner of the primary. Let’s take the latest Emerson poll put out yesterday: Trump – 31%, Bush – 16%, Kasich – 13%, Rubio – 12%, Cruz – 11%, all others total 16%. Delegates would be awarded as follows from the proportional vote: Trump – 6, Bush – 3, Kasich – 2, Rubio – 2, Cruz – 2. The 3 delegates corresponding to the 16% of the vote received by the other candidates goes to the winner of the primary – Trump in this scenario. With these numbers, Trump would receive 6 more delegates than his closest rival.
Have the candidates lowered the expectations enough to spin the results as victories, but not so much that they lose votes? It will be interesting to see the results and listen to each campaign’s statements tonight. It might be very entertaining, but of course, I have low expectations about how much I will enjoy it.