Body Language in Politics

Body Language in Politics
By Pam Andes
Campaign 2008
Professor Moran
Image is Important
“Seeing comes before words. The child
looks and recognizes before it can
– Image is a representation
– Branding is a feeling attached to an
– Political candidates see the value in
effectively communicating their image to
the public
Senator Norm Coleman Jesse Ventura
Humphrey Hubert III
Jesse "The Body" Ventura
Actors as Politicians
Actors are skilled communicators
Actors as Politicians
93% of Communication is
Nonverbal Communication
7% of Communication is through actual words
whereas 93% is nonverbal communication or in
other words, their body language
The History Channel’s “The Secrets of Body
Putin/Bush Stride for Power 3:20 – 4:43
Clinton/Ehud Barak/Yasser Arafat Door Games 5:12 - 7:20
Blair/Bush Good Little Boy pat 7:40 –
Putin stages the Upper Hand 10:06
Putin/Bush Upper Hand
Nonverbal Image is Important
Politicians realize that Nonverbal Image/Body
Language is important
Most agree that this began at the Great Debate,
1st televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon.
– Nixon just came out of the hospital and lost weight
– Nixon was sweating
– JFK is considered the visual winner of the debate
thought Nixon is considered the audio winner of the
However, Nixon used television as a strategic
medium in his Checkers speech to improve his
image at the 1952 Vice Presidency candidacy
Body Language
A politician’s body language can easily
give him/her away especially under
– Ex. Pres. Nixon holds live Press conference
Body is defensive
hands behind the back, with open front
but he’s doing a self touch gesture meaning that
“ok I can get through this”
“I am not a crook” yet his body goes back or retreats
showing that they are not telling the truth, they are
moving back away from that lie
Crossing the arms – is to protect himself
Showing anxiety
Is Image Everything?
Managing Politician Images (Mark Jeffries
– Must be comfortable in front of people
– Actor’s training is helpful
– But is Image everything?
Too coached?
Gestures don’t match the voice
Hillary is seen as overcoached at times
* “The Body Politic” by David Wallis, Brandweek; 3/31/2008
How to Read Body Language
Facial Expression
1. Microexpression – expressions that come out
before you think
2. Facial Coding/Reaction Shots **
5. Voice *
6. The Laban Movement Analysis
* The History Channel’s “Secrets of Body Language”
** “The Body Politic” by David Wallis, Brandweek; 3/31/2008
How to Read Body Language
The Laban Movement Analysis
– The Laban Movement is a group of dance teachers,
therapists and others who are schooled in the
techniques of Rudolf Laban.
– They study dance, acting, physical therapy as well as
politicians’ bodily movement
– These Certified Movement Analysts discuss Hillary’s use
of the vertical plane by holding her head straight during
the debats and of “descending movements” such as her
signature “slicing motion” which can suggest “clarity and
sense of priority of issues”
– These CMAs also discuss Obama’s Flow and how he held
a baby within his face range to exemplify true
connection with people
*”The Way They Move” by Lizzie Widdiecombe, New Yorker; 6/23/2008
Reading Body Language
Body language has become
increasingly important in
American Politics that it is not
difficult to find commentary
on a candidate’s body
Hillary Clinton’s attracted a lot
of attention with her nodding
head and steepling
However, Laban CMAs believe
the “nodding vigorously” was
not very smart and she has
toned it down along with her
facial expressions.
How to Read Body Language
According to Lizzie WIddiecombe’s article, “The Way they Move” (New Yorker; 6/23/08), these signals have been analyzed in this year’s
John McCain’s leaning on podium can be seen as “I need” according to Janine Driver on
Finger pointing is “tough guy” approach according to Tonya Reiman on Fox though many perceive it
as a negative
Use gestures within the “power zone” which is inside the shoulders. Hillary effectively gestures in
the Feb. 21st Debate by using 16 different facial and hand gestures within 3 minutes.*
Obama’s “ok” formation of a circle with the tip of the index finger and the thumb while the pinkie,
ring and middle fingers curve together below the circle.*
* “The Body Politic” by David Wallis, Brandweek; 3/31/2008
Can Politicians Cry?
Sen. Edmund Muskie’s run for President in 1972
– Nixon’s dirty tricks spread rumors about Muskie’s wife
– Ed Muskie defended his wife in a public statement during a snowstorm where
reporters claimed he cried.
– This claim created an image of him that he was weak.
– Muskie withdrew his candidacy afterwards.
Hillary Clinton is seen holding back tears
– Is the moment sincere? Or practiced?
How to Read Body Language
According to Karla Reed’s Article, “Reading
Political Body Language”, below are a
few signals to look for
Body Language of the Eyes
– Blinking slowly – indicates
lost of interest
– Blinking excessively –
possible indicator of lying
or increase in stress level
– Rolling eyes upward – a
sign of disagreement
– Avoiding eye contact – a
sign of lying, guilt,
– Staring without
interruption – an act of
How to Read Body Language
Arm Related Body language
– Arms crossed in front of body – this stance provides self comfort
– Arms on hips with elbows turned outward (known as “arms akimbo”)
This establishes dominance or has issues with the situation.
– Arms clasped behind back (known as “Regal or Royal Stance”) –
signals for people not to come near. Example – Nixon’s “I’m not a
crook” speech
How to Read Body Language
Body Language of the
– Wringing of the Hands –
indicates insecurity
– Spreading of the fingers
and hands indicates
territorial, confidence,
– Folding of hands with
thumbs popped up –
subject has something
positive to say
– Folding of hands with
thumbs coming down –
subject is talking about
How to Read Body Language
Foot and Leg Related Body language Signals
– Crossing of legs – indicates comfort with surroundings and/or current
– Wiggling or bouncing of feet – this is a self pacifying movement
– Exaggerated kicking movements of feet while legs crossed – subject is
considering something negative
– Pointing up of the toes – signals a positive emotion, a great mood
How to Read Body Language
Decoding Body Stature
– Body lean towards another
person – a positive signal,
one likes the other
Example: Bill Clinton in
the 1992 Town Hall
Debate when Ross Perot
– Body lean away from
another (sudden or
steady) – one dislikes the
– Leaning back in a chair
with legs spread out this
is a display of territory
which is a sign of
disrespect especially in the
workplace when positioned
against a superior
How to Read Body Language
Body language and eyeglasses
– Removal of glasses –
signals need for further discussion and/or
thought or signals dismay at that point of
– Glasses in mouth – signifies a peaked level of
interest. Subject may be contemplating or
making a decision.
– Placing glasses on head – this allows a pause,
buys time or change in mood.
– Sliding glasses down on nose – this usually
indicates a heightened level of scrutiny
towards another peron.
How to Read Body Language
Other Body Signals
– Clearing of the throat
and/or twitching the
subject is feeling insecure
Example: Al Gore sighing
during the 2000 Bush
– Picking at clothing – a
strong signal of boredom
– Touching the nose –
subject is hiding
– Touching the neck –
signals concern, insecurity
and a threatened feeling
– Tone
Example of 2 parents with missing children were
reviewed without visual imagery by college students
– Voice of mother who actually killed her children
convinced students that she sincerely missed her
– Voice of innocent father failed to convince students that
he was sincere in missing his children
– Dissecting the sound
Possible to analyze voice recording with some
scientific precision called LVA, Layered Voice Analysis
Can image be a Primary factor over
For Journal Research,
“The Visual Byte: Bill Clinton and the Town Hall Meeting Style”