Meet the angriest man running for president – no it’s not Trump

September 16, 2015

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What better time to gauge the emotional profile of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an avowed Socialist, than during his Labor Day speech to the AFL-CIO in New Hampshire? After all, the independent junior senator from Vermont, who’s running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, has a website home page that focuses on economics and the working class. Creating jobs, raising wages, “taking on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class” is what Sanders says his campaign is all about.

Does he back up his heated words emotionally? You bet. On Labor Day, Sanders, as usual, comes out swinging. Literally. He uses a double-barreled hand gesture for emphasis — both hands clenched into fists and raised level with his head. Add a barrage of finger-pointing to drive home his resistance to the status quo, and you’ve got Sanders’s body language nailed.

But that’s just the obvious stuff. Sanders’s somewhat more subtle facial expressions also mark him as the angriest candidate in this year’s election cycle. When I facially coded all the candidates’ campaign launch speeches, more than half of Sanders’ address fell on the anger spectrum — from annoyed to frustrated to outraged.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) takes part in a rally to preserve union pensions in Washington

Senator Sen. Bernie Sanders takes part in a rally to preserve union pensions on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Sanders registers anger far more than any other emotion. Watch how his chin thrusts upward during or between sentences, often as his lips press together. How tightly he presses them together is a barometer of whether an issue makes him merely frustrated or downright angry. Then round out the package with a furrowed brow and narrowed eyes.

It used to be that American presidential candidates obligingly smiled to the cameras and the crowds. It showed you were calm and cool, upbeat — a winner.

But not Sanders. Though he is attracting large crowds at campaign events, now as much as five times the size of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s biggest audiences, it doesn’t get him to lighten up. Since he is insisting that he won’t be bought off by wealthy donors, he has pulled in contributions from more than 400,000 people. Yet that also doesn’t seem to soften his anger.

Sanders is succeeding beyond most political analysts’ expectations. The senator admits that he is “stunned” to have pulled even with Clinton in recent Iowa polls. He is ahead in New Hampshire — which, granted, is Vermont’s neighbor.

Vermont Senator and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders appears at a "Brunch With Bernie" rally at National Nurses United in Oakland, California

Senator Bernie Sanders during a news conference after he addressed the Democratic National Committee Summer Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Craig Lassig

The amazing thing, however, is that, despite this success, Sanders appears to have gotten even angrier since his campaign launch. It’s almost as if he’s the candidate of wrath. It seems that his strong support might only have strengthened his resolve to continue his fight against the long odds and beat the “establishment.”

To understand that phenomenon, let’s examine what anger means and how it works. Of the seven core emotions — happiness, surprise, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and contempt — there are only two approach emotions: happiness and anger. To hug or to hit. In kicking-off his campaign, Sanders was occasionally happy. Now that’s gone. It’s been replaced by a desire to smack down those responsible for income and wealthy inequality, for a declining middle class, for big money dominating politics. This appears to have become the driving force behind Sanders’s campaign.

That figures. Anger is about wanting to be in control of your life and make progress. Sure, you can get angry because you’re confused and, therefore, don’t feel in control. But Sanders isn’t confused. Instead, he’s angry because he wants the country to make a certain kind of progress, and he’s increasingly angry to the extent that he feels the barriers to progress are unfair. It’s perceived injustice that animates Sanders, who’s as given to grumpy feistiness as Donald Trump is to jeering and pouting.

Vermont Senator and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks in Oakland, California

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks after receiving an endorsement from the National Nurses United in Oakland, California, August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

To really grasp what Sanders is about, you need to turn to behavioral economics — a Nobel prize-winning version of economics that factors in emotions when contemplating people’s decision-making behavior. One principle of behavioral economics is inequality aversion. Research has shown that people’s instinct for wanting fairness and justice is so strong that it can override all other considerations. People will harm their own self-interests, for example, and break off an otherwise profitable deal to avoid letting somebody else get the better of them in negotiations.

Feelings like outrage and vengeance are relevant then, while the motivations vary from altruism (“Let’s all play fair and be nice”) to injured self-esteem (“I’m no less important than you are!”).

The Sanders campaign isn’t an updated version of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s more like Occupy Main Street, Too. Emotions are contagious. Studies show that letting off steam doesn’t necessarily cause a person to calm down. In fact getting angry can make a person that much angrier, building the kind of emotional momentum that Sanders’s campaign events are feasting on. (And maybe Trump as well.)

Some pundits have compared Sanders to Senator Eugene McCarthy’s quixotic run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. But emotionally that’s all wrong. McCarthy was aloof and wry. (When I asked him in 1988 about which of the seven deadly sins was the deadliest in politics, he answered, “Envy. In politics, sloth is a virtue.”) This is a far cry from the animated and cantankerous Sanders.

Democratic presidential candidate Sanders waits to deliver remarks at a National Nurses United event in Washington

Senator Bernie Sanders waits to speak at a National Nurses United event to honor Medicare and Medicaid’s 50th anniversary, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 30, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

On Labor Day, Sanders used words like “grotesque” when talking about the current levels of income inequality and talked about the need for a “massive” redistribution of wealth. Sanders is going for the jugular.

Happiness might be deemed a luxury in the fight he’s waging against injustice. It might even be “off-emotion” in a campaign where Sanders looks ready to duke it out against the billionaires.

The more that Sanders gathers crowds and small donations, paradoxically the less happy he appears. Sanders told the Labor Day rally only once that “we’re going to win this election.” As the crowd erupted in cheers, then, and only then, did Sanders leave anger. He smiled.

But it wasn’t an actual smile. It looked more like a smirk. It seemed to reveal the senator’s contempt for all the usual “we’ll win” campaign claptrap. Even as he was using it.

38 comments

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bernie needs to get his dentures fixed before giving any more speeches

and dear pundit … this is not anger , its dementia in advanced stages – teh guy is way to old and needs to go on a foliage trip – permenently ….

Posted by rhymeandreason | Report as abusive

Anger seems to be a pretty reasonable response to situations like increasing economic inequality, a minimum wage that forces full time workers to depend on government assistance, the unbearable burden of student debt on the nation’s young adults, and the high cost of healthcare compared with other countries. I for one am glad that Bernie is angry, and I think he speaks for a LOT of people who feel the same way!

Posted by jstrick | Report as abusive

Why don’t you write an article about WHY Bernie and much of the American public is angry? Where are the issues? What is this substance-free nonsense…

Posted by WPT | Report as abusive

All of us should be angry! Why isn’t everyone angry is the right question to ask? Bernie, like many of us is angry because beginning in the 1970’s with the Powell Manifesto, then in the 1980’s with Regan and Greenspan robbing Social Security, then NAFTA by Clinton, CAFTA by Bush, Citizen’s United, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and attacks against the NLRA, Americans are being opressed and driven into an oligarchical tyranny controlled by the 1% billionaire class (the Koch brothers, Waltons, Trump, etc…). Everyone in America including the person who wrote this biased opinion piece should be pissed off and supporting Bernie Sanders run for President of these United States! #SandersWarren2016

Posted by RDGreen67 | Report as abusive

No comments? Maybe just no CRITICAL ones allowed?

Posted by DeborahDietz | Report as abusive

Where is my FIRST comment, a highly critical one?

Posted by DeborahDietz | Report as abusive

Really Dan Hill? REEEEEEEEEALY? “When I facially coded all the candidates’…” Show me YOUR DEGREE THAT QUALIFIES YOU to do anything OTHER THAN yammer! Is this journalism? Or are you just following orders?
http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/hi llary-clinton-2016-proxies-attack-bernie -sanders-213359

You truly suck!

Posted by RandomStranger | Report as abusive

Heard on the news that attack ads from a Clinton super Pac were commencing. Sad to see Reuters being bought out and used in such an underhanded fashion.

Posted by liquidlights | Report as abusive

I think the best way to judge someone’s decision -making skills is to look at the decisions they have made throughout life, not the faces they make when giving a speech.

Posted by Alexwolfe | Report as abusive

Bernie Sanders has good reason to be angry. I am angry too. This country has gone to hell because of the power of the Billionaire class.
Bernie is fighting the good fight. You don’t smile while fighting, do you?

I will vote for Bernie Sanders because I want all of what Bernie is putting forth to America. ALL of us should want this.

Posted by CynDoyle | Report as abusive

YIKES!!!!

Posted by nek866 | Report as abusive

Excellent job reducing Bernie Sanders and his message to his body language and his “anger.” We should ALL be angry about the wane of the middle class and the myriad progressive policy issues he has been supporting for the last 30 years. Your article has no substance, sir. Thumbs down.

Posted by Rex_Arcarius | Report as abusive

How partisan can one article be? Really, Reuters? You call this journalism?

Posted by FairnessInMedia | Report as abusive

Bernie Sanders is not all anger and gloom. He does smile too. But when he’s talking about serious issues, he’s all business, no jokes. People can feel his honesty and passion for what he believes. You can tell his words are not screened through a focus group by paid political consultants. He’s the real deal.

Posted by StanleySokolow | Report as abusive

Yep!

It is about time that SOMEONE got angry against all the political injustice and anger.

The APPROPRIATE response from the American people and any politician looking to represent the actual interests of the People is anger. Not reckless, unbridled anger that swipes pointlessly at the wrong people but righteous and targeted anger to be directed at a system of corruption that serves wealth and profit interests over the well being of the citizenry and the health of our environment.

Yep. The wealth disparity is GROTESQUE. When 1% hold more wealth then the bottom 50% that is GROTESQUE. When 85 people in the world hold more wealth then the bottom 3.5 BILLION that is BEYOND GROTESQUE.

Something is seriously wrong with this system, a system where one in three children live in poverty in the wealthiest country in the world and 75% of new jobs being created are minimum wage, part time employment. The list goes on.

Righteous anger is EXACTLY the fuel we need to drive a movement to oust the corrupted out of Washington.

GIVE EM HELL BERNIE Fight on!!!

Posted by debbierl | Report as abusive

not voting for him. He will be dead in a few yrs of a heart attack anyway. He is nearly 80 years old.

Posted by Apachebob | Report as abusive

This has to be one of the more ridiculous pieces about Bernie Sanders that I’ve read so far. First off, drop the pseudo-science about coding. You offer no information about how your “research” was done, so just stop pretending.

But let’s, for moment, credit that you’ve found a kernel of truth, so what? Are the candidates supposed to be running on a platform of how happy they are? Maybe, as Bernie Sanders is running on issues, and talks about issues, but still finds “journalists” and pundits writing about nonsense (instead of issues), he has a good reason to be angry.

Don’t forget, Sanders is a politician, not an actor. So I don’t think his range of projected emotions is crucial. He is running for office, not auditioning for a role. Your silly criticism is just that, silly. It signifies nothing. And by the way, a critic once said of Katharine Hepburn that she exhibited all the emotions from A-B. That, of course, was before she went on to win four Oscars.

Posted by L.A.Reader | Report as abusive

Today, the knives came out. It’s a day that will live in infamy. It’s a full-court press! Wall Street Journal, Reuter’s, Washington Post all ran big attack articles on Bernie that at best could be considered ignorant. But they are on the whole deceptive propaganda. Once people hear Bernie’s ideas, they will know you have been lying to them. Not a good look on you, Reuters.

Posted by RoryOwen661 | Report as abusive

Angry? Perhaps rightly so. But not near as angry as many Americans are with the GOP. I for one am livid with the GOP, and disgusted with Reuters for an article that appears to be written by Bill O’Reilly. So good-bye respect for Reuters. And Hello to the Storm is Coming. I would love to see most of the GOP and Tea Party jerks in prison for treason. Even better ship them all to Iran. When I read about the mass shootings I am saddened that innocent lives were taken when they could have hot most of the GOP and done some good.

Posted by StormComing | Report as abusive

This comment stream is full of “Bernie’s too old”, “He’s senile”… For a more informed perspective on the question of “Is Bernie Sanders too old to be President”, go here: http://revolutionaryoldidea.squarespace. com/roi-blogi/2015/9/14/daily-factoid-is -bernie-sanders-too-old-to-be-president

Posted by markgardiner | Report as abusive

You think this man is frail?! Check out the schedule he keeps. He has three or four rallies each weekend, a few other town halls and spends his weekdays in Washington as a Senator. He is one tough old bird.

Posted by jrintala | Report as abusive

I.m angry too. Snaders is the man who is speaking for me and the millions of others that are angry with the system. #FEELTHEBERN

Posted by Hobo-Dobo | Report as abusive

Feel the BERN!

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Percentage of total federal revenues coming from Corporate taxes:

1952: 32%

2014: 11%

Who do you think makes up that difference? American working people. Not CEO’s or hedge fund managers. American WORKING people. Of course he’s angry. He’s the only one talking about real stuff. The GOP is still caught up on Mexicans and abortions.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Anyone who really cares should be angry. Bernie is the only candidate who actually cares about the people. Stfu about his teeth BTW.

Posted by EricM888 | Report as abusive

I think that the author is saying Saunders is honest.

Posted by gdrwx | Report as abusive

Reuters erred in presenting this whiff of fluff in their “Great Debate” series. The publisher should be ashamed, and Dan Hill should be sent back to the Entertainment section or shipped off to a fake-news outfit like Fox. This country has serious issues, people are hurting, citizens of all parties are fed up–stop wasting our time when we need thoughtful journalism.

Posted by mblanpied | Report as abusive

Have you checked out the working people of the USA? He’s got a lot to be angry about.

Posted by kaw19602 | Report as abusive

Have you checked out the working people of the USA? He’s got a lot to be angry about.

Posted by kaw19602 | Report as abusive

Have you checked out the working people of the USA? He’s got a lot to be angry about.

Posted by kaw19602 | Report as abusive

Have you checked out the working people of the USA? He’s got a lot to be angry about.

Posted by kaw19602 | Report as abusive

Have you checked out the working people of the USA? He’s got a lot to be angry about.

Posted by kaw19602 | Report as abusive

We are all angry witnessing our USA descend into a war-bucks powered, Military industrial complex-homeland security prison system.

Posted by Ringo.Swartz | Report as abusive

The title seems so biased,
and the rest so under any level… Is this Reuters in common?

Posted by ruud111 | Report as abusive

So the “Democratic” Socialists – a redundancy – are going to nominate Mr. Potato head as their candidate of choice with the promise of massive income and wealth redistribution? Aside from the fact that Mr. Potatohead could not manage his way out of a one man hot dog stand, Democrats should take care getting what they wish for. Paradise would last for 10 minutes or so, then the oppressive and incompetent reality of “Democratic” socialism would cast us in to the darkness of Venezuelan magic unicorn economics.

Posted by navig80r | Report as abusive

Time to impeach all 535 morons + Criminal-in-Charge for fraud, treason

Posted by jackdanielsesq | Report as abusive

This is NOT dementia. Bernie has been this passionate/angry for over 40 years in public life. Furthemore, his anger never prevents him from stating his views in an intellignet way.

Posted by HerbSmith | Report as abusive

We have been ripped off by the lobbyists and the wealthy who have gamed the system. (See, “Free Lunch”) Anger is better than apathy if he is the fuel of change.

Posted by xxx11yyy11 | Report as abusive