Facial Coding Of The 3rd Presidential Debate

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Barack, Debates, McCain

I was just sent the following by Dan Hill of Sensory Logic. He’s the facial coding expert you see making the rounds on the talk shows, etc., and he did a breakdown of the VP debate for us.

In any event, see if the following jives with your recollection of the events…

  1. McCain clearly won the first 1/3rd of the debate, thanks in part to a nice blend of being both his trademark indignant (angry) combined with the largest single dose of halfway authentic smiling. The “I’m not George Bush” line, for instance, wasn’t spontaneous and you could tell because McCain was smiling (truly though subtly) even before he delivered it. Afterwards, he did show a little anger with tightening of the mouth and his eyes narrowed also a little, in anger. The intro of “Joe the plumber” was similar, lots of anticipatory smiles (canned piece, again), but enough of them to suggest the hope angle that McCain has a hard time conveying. When he picked on the “spread the wealth” comment, he showed anger with tightened mouth again.
  2. The debate changed for good with the introduction of negative campaigning as the topic. Obama brought up the chanting of McCain supporters, saying “kill him.” Amazingly, McCain didn’t back down. Instead he said he “wouldn’t stand for” his supporters being criticized, and showed a little bulge below the mouth (a sign of heightened anger) that, I thought, showed him seriously off-kilter given the context of threats against the life of a would-be president!
  3. That part of the debate ended with Obama showing for the first of several times a big smile to dismiss the obvious lurch as McCain went from Ayers to saying that the “campaign is about getting the economy back on track.” The smiles were clearly aimed as dismissing McCain, but Obama did do them without seeming aloof or overly condescending. (By the way, when McCain spoke of Ayers he seems to believe it’s a genuine threat because he arched his right eyebrow in fear/surprise, a move that few people can do intentionally (less than 10% of the populace) and because it’s such a rare expression by McCain.)
  4. Another point where McCain lost the back 2/3rds of the debate from an emotive / facial coding perspective is when they were discussing healthcare and people vulnerable to not having coverage. When Obama said that McCain’s plan would leave the “old and sick” vulnerable, McCain took the immediate back-and-forth as his focal point and showed contempt (smirk) and upside down smile of disgust/anger instead of sadness/empathy for the larger point of people being in trouble. Indeed, for almost 45 minutes in the debate McCain struggled with a combo of smirking and anger management – not until the topic was helping unwed mothers with adoption (something the McCains have done) did McCain again show a genuine smile while on stage. In short, he needed more warmth than heat – but succumbed to anger yet again in this debate.
  5. Other interesting point was that Obama showed an expression I hadn’t much seen before, and never so pronounced. His lower chin had a deep wrinkle as he showed disgust, anger and sadness at some of McCain’s more condescending remarks (never south of the border, “surprised you didn’t pay more attention” to vouchers in D.C. schools.) Starting in late August, I saw Obama show contempt (smirks) for McCain; this is pun intended a new wrinkle on his deepening disdain for McCain’s style of politicking – and of course McCain smirks, in turn, at Obama.

Ultimately, I just don’t think McCain has very good control over his emotions and that has really hurt him in these debates where subtlety and control matters.

Perhaps this is why people see Obama as a steadier, cooler leader?

Actually, you can bet on it.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 and is filed under Barack, Debates, McCain. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Facial Coding Of The 3rd Presidential Debate”

  1. rachel Says:

    I’ve read that Obama is a fair poker player; if so, I’m sure that doesn’t hurt.

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