Monday, November 28, 2011

The Right Smile Wins?

When it comes to political research, there's no factor we won't explore in hopes of finding a clue as to who wins and who loses.  Party ID and policy stances, you bet.

But also how that smile.

A column from mid-November that I just found thanks to this report points to research suggesting how well a presidential candidate smiles can be the difference between being a winner and being a loser.

From the column:
According to research by Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, how much we like a communicator depends on the “congruence” of three factors—words, tone of voice and non-verbal behavior. Fifty-five percent of what influences our judgment about that “fit” is non-verbal: the speaker’s eyes, face and an “attitude” that comes across in the body language.
I admit I'm largely unaware of this specific body of research, but it makes sense.  In the column, Jon Kraushar breaks down the last several presidential elections and the "smile factor" of each.  Read 'em yourself.  Fascinating stuff.  But, and this is a huge methodological but, I wonder whether the "smiles" and "grins" and "twinkle of the eye" are being fit to the data.  In other words, we know how those past elections came out, so it's easy to fit our perceptions of those facial expressions to the results. What's this tell us about 2012?  Nothing really.  Kraushar notes:
The secret of a winning presidential smile isn’t just in the mouth. Presidents also smile with their eyes, showing inner warmth or an amused twinkle, for example. Voters can detect the difference between the verbal and non-verbal communication of a Happy Warrior versus an Unhappy Worrier.
When I picture Obama vs. Romney, I see a tie and maybe, just maybe, an edge to Romney.  Obama vs. Gingrich?  Obama twinkles more, has better body language, plus Gingrich scares small children when he smiles.  But I admit this is merely my rather flawed and personal perception.

But any of us can play this game.  So have fun comparing twinkles and body language.  It may just matter.

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