Speaking about Sarah Palin and the element of Surprise (yesterday's post and back here), the prevailing buzz since last Thursday's debate was--in the words of Brent Baker and many, many others--the "surprise that Sarah Palin wasn't a car wreck and did not embarrass herself."
In the parlance of us here at Surprise Central, that's a powerful technique called "Underdogging." To quote myself from a blog post that first appeared here last November:
"...being underestimated is the friend of Surprise; it sets the bar low, and allows one to make an even greater impact once he or she stands out.
"Great Surprise stories--in sports, business, anywhere there is adversity and the chance of triumph against the odds--are written by Underdogs...not by Overcats. And being underestimated is the Underdog's jet fuel."
The concept of Underdogging is used often in business, but particularly in politics. Check out this excerpt from a 1996 piece in Time Magazine:
"No one knows when the expectations game first became part of the process, but Larry O'Brien, who ran John Kennedy's 1960 campaign, loved recalling how 'we suckered everyone in West Virginia.' J.F.K.'s own polls had him beating Hubert Humphrey with 60% of the vote in that state, which at the time held a crucial primary. 'But we successfully touted our strength at 40%,' O'Brien said. 'When we hit 60% it was considered remarkable.'
"Since then, any pol worth his consulting fee has tried to lowball his own candidate's prospects while inflating his opponent's. The high chutzpah mark was reached in 1972 when George McGovern's 37% showing in New Hampshire was taken as a victory because a key aide to Ed Muskie had stupidly said she'd cut her throat if Muskie didn't get half the vote--a bar he missed by three points.
As the campaign shifts into overdrive, and as polls start to hone in on what's "supposedly" going to happen (laying groundwork for a whole other series of Surprises, but I digress...), watch for more Underdogging positioning and posturing to spin reality into the Surprise stories the parties want to tell.