Following two presidential debates, Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have been scrutinized not only for what they have said, but how they have said it. This does not refer merely to tone or volume; American viewers also take cues from a candidate’s facial expressions, movement and posture.
Body language is not without significance in the presidential debates. In fact, it might be just as important as the substance of the speeches themselves.
Some research suggests that the candidates’ words have a larger impact on voters than their body language. A recent study conducted by the Journal of Communication found that viewers of a German presidential debate felt verbal elements had a stronger impact on their reactions.
The influence of nonverbal subtleties, however, should not be underestimated. Research conducted by Boston College pyscho-physiologist Joseph Tecce shows that the candidate who blinks more during debates has lost every presidential election since 1980. The only exception is the 2000 election, when the winning candidate, George Bush, lost the popular vote.
Body language plays an important role in media perception as well. The more anxious the candidate, the faster he blinks and the grander he gestures. A recent CNN article showed while substance is crucial, many Americans also tune in to how the candidates appear as they present their material.
Governor Romney was awarded the win in the first presidential debate by most major news media outlets. He also blinked about 1,300 times less than his opponent, according to Tecce.
In the second debate, however, Obama prevailed with more positive non-verbal signals. ABC news analysts pointed out Romney’s insecure stance while Obama made jabs at his tax plan. They also noted how during the last minutes of the debate, Romney “walked stiffly and let his hands hang at his sides.”
Even according to Tecce’s, method it’s too soon to predict who will be victorious in the 2012 election. Next Monday’s foreign policy debate is definitely one to keep ears—and eyes—open for.