Monday, August 21, 2017

Politicians’ Body Language

You’ve probably heard the old joke, “How can you tell a politician is lying?… His lips are moving.” As funny as this is, it’s not exactly accurate. Politicians are often very careful to not make definitive statements so as to avoid lying (at least in the strictest sense of the word). Instead of saying, “I will create peace in the Middle East in my first week as president,” a political candidate is more likely to say, “I will strive towards negotiating a lasting peace accord in the Middle East.” While the latter statement certainly sounds more flowery and musical, it actually says nothing at all. “Striving towards” something means that the goal may not be reached despite a politician’s best efforts. The word “negotiating” implies either successful or unsuccessful negotiations. And “a lasting peace” could “last” for decades or only a few days. These speech patterns are so common among politicians that we’ve actually been conditioned to expect nothing else out of our candidates. Because of this, it is very difficult to catch a politician in an outright, bald-faced lie simply by weighing the value of their words. Their body language, on the other hand, often tells a different story.

 

The types of body language to watch for in political debates and speeches are defensive posturing, expressions of uncertainty, and facial expression flashes of disgust, anger, surprise, fear, and contempt. On the flip side, its irresponsible to not also look for open, honest body language, expressions of honesty and strength, and genuine expressions of happiness or sadness. During their campaigns, political candidates will often be faced with questions they may or may not be prepared to answer. This is a perfect time to watch for telling body language displays. If, for example, someone asks a Republican candidate what they plan to do to cut down on mass shootings in the United States, you will likely see a quick flash of contempt and/or disgust on their face. They may step back a bit from the podium, distancing themselves from the question. They may scratch their nose or ear, tug at their collar, pick lint off their sleeve, and otherwise give the impression of discomfort. Their verbal answer to the question might be perfect but their body language betrays their true feelings about the issue; they are uncomfortable with that particular issue and want to get away from that line of questioning.

 

Looking at the two major candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election, we see two very different displays of body language:

 

It is obvious to experts that Hillary Clinton has received coaching in body language in preparation for her campaign. That is, she has received coaching but has not practiced long enough for controlled body language to be second nature. In the beginning of her speeches and debates she is controlled in her movements and gestures. As time progresses, however, and questions become more probing or emotions begin to run a little high she loses her composure a little and begins to slip. Hillary Clinton can be seen quite often raising her shoulders as a sign of uncertainty when being probed by the press or political opponents. She also is notoriously uncomfortable around certain topics and issues. This can be seen in her shaking her head in a slight “no” pattern as she mentions topics which she claims to fully support. In one televised speech for the Human Rights Campaign, Hillary Clinton speaks of LGBTQ rights. As she mentions phrases such as “equal rights for all” and “working together to improve society,” she shakes her head “no” as she speaks. Normally, one would be expected a nod in a “yes” pattern while speaking these words in the context of vowing support. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she is lying, but there is something about these topics with which she does not feel comfortable.

 

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has had a long career in highly competitive, cutthroat business. He has probably had extensive training over an extended period of time in body language appropriate to high-pressure business environments. Powerful, domineering, and assured body language comes very naturally to him. Most politicians will turn their heads to their opponents on stage at televised debates when answering accusations or directing criticism at someone in particular. Donald Trump turns his whole body and faces his opponents directly, not at a side glance. This is characteristic of successful businessmen. Donald Trump also uses hand gestures that look as if he’s pushing invisible ideas together in front of him. This gesture is indicative of out-of-the-box thinkers, and is also common among successful businessmen. In fact, most of Donald Trump’s body language indicates control and dominance. His facial expressions, however, are not as controlled as he often makes no effort to disguise contempt or disgust. Given the nature of his campaign, however, even this fits neatly with his public persona.

 

image_382771828In conclusion, body language often provides us a window into those traits which politicians attempt to hide from the public. In Hillary Clinton’s case, this is very true. Donald Trump, however, is much more practiced at masking body language to portray exactly what he want to portray, not necessarily what’s going on inside his head. This article is not an endorsement of either candidate. Rather, it is a simple analysis of the body language of both the Republican and Democrat nominees for the Presidency in the 2016 Election. It is meant to provide another metric for voters to consider when placing their votes.