In debates, McCain loses blinking contest to Obama

October 16, 2008

mccain-semi-blink.jpgWASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate John McCain may not have blinked first in his debates with Barack Obama — but he certainly blinked more often, which is not a good thing.

Candidates who blink more than their opponents in debates tend to lose presidential elections, says Boston College psychology professor J.J. Tecce, and McCain outblinked Obama during the their three debates this fall.

“People are picking up McCain’s rapid blinking and saying, ‘There’s something about him that’s awfully twitchy and nervous and I don’t think I want to vote for that guy,'” said Tecce, who has presented a paper on blinking in debates.

Tecce said rapid blinking is an indicator of negative emotions such as fear, pain or stress. Most people blink 10 to 20 times per minute, a rate that increases to between 30 and 50 times per minute if they’re in front of a television camera.

The Republican McCain, who trails Democrat Obama by 4 to 14 percentage points in most polls, blinked 109 times per minute during the first debate, while Obama blinked 73 times per minute. Tecce said that gap persisted in the next two debates.

Obama has unhelpful tics of his own, such as a tendency to  look down at the ground, but voters appear to not pick up on these cues as readily as they do rapid blinking, Tecce said.

The presidential candidate who blinked more than his opponent during debates has lost every election since 1976 — with the exception of 2000 when blink-happy George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore but won the White House.

The blinking pattern held during this year’s Democratic primaries. Obama and rival Hillary Clinton each registered about 40 to 50 blinks per minute during Democratic debates, far less than rivals who quickly dropped out of the race.

On the Republican side, McCain was the fastest blinker of the bunch. Ron Paul clocked in at a serene 10 blinks per minute and only Mitt Romney registered in the ideal 40-blinks-per-minute range.

“I think they shot themselves in the foot on body language,” Tecce said.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.


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Is this serious? Yeah i really should vote for Obama since Mccain blinks more. I think if this is news we really need to get our own lives!

Posted by dan | Report as abusive

It has been known for a long time that people who are lying blink more than those telling the truth. When I watch McCain all I can think is “he looks like he’s lying, he blinks too much”. I’m happy to see that someone actually counted his blinks and published this article. America needs to realize that this man is a nervous lying freak with no business in the white house.

Posted by doug | Report as abusive

That Is Complete Rubbish,”Blinking”, as you listen Or in the course of Expressing yourself (speaking ,Typing,dancing,playing a musical instrument ,etc.It is a GOOD indicator of Cognitive Function i.e. BRAIN Activity.If McCain had stared him down you would have said he ‘s not human or a sociopath.The American People Are Being Robbed as they passively accept a Dictator(Obama) being INSTALLED -Like Sheep.

Posted by JFP | Report as abusive

You cannot wish this one away. The data shows that the blinker loses. We can only suppose why, but the findings show that people vote for the one who blinks less. End of story.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

Everyone is missing the obvious. John McCain was blinking a message in Morse Code: “Torture. Torture…” It is an old trick he picked up from his prison days, and he was trying to covey to the CIA analysts that he was only advocating tax cuts to the wealthy because he was being tortured by Dick Cheney.

Posted by Rodney Lamprey | Report as abusive

JFP, McCain is the one who said he always aspired to be a dictator, not Obama.

But ignore his own words like all the idealogues have.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

This whole election is on the blink.

Posted by AmericanVoter | Report as abusive

If it were really true that the person who blinks the least wins… wouldn’t Ron Paul be the winner. Oh, that’s right, the media shut him out of the debates so he never had a chance to become known by the mainstream.

Posted by Brett | Report as abusive

I’m ready to stick a pen in my eyes… rather than watch another debate between these two clowns. Neither one of them deserves to be president. One is a socialist and the other is just kinda odd much of the time. I’m sure they are both great guys and would probably be fine to have a few drinks with. But ‘President’? I’m disappointed in both.

Personally, I’ll likely vote for McCain because I can’t imagine what things would be like with Obama, Pelosi, Dodd and the rest of the ‘extreme’ wing of their party. They are way beyond where any of my Democrat friends are.

Me? I’m an “R”, but not an extremist. I’d prefer less government intervention in my financial affairs. If we REALLY wanted to be ‘patriotic’, we would make sure that EVERYONE pays something. I don’t care if it’s $10/month. But something. Since when is it patriotic to pay NO taxes (at the expense of increased taxes on others)?

But this election has gone well beyond this type of discussion. We’ve become a society of extremists. We are not particularly analytical. We just have ‘opinions’. And strong ones at that. This election is as much a marker of our failure as it is of government’s failures. We should demand more transparency in government. I want to know who is getting money from who. And not just direct money. I want to know about ‘indirect’ money (contributions to campaigns and such). I want a 9/11 commission on the banking situation. But it will never happen. To many dirty hands.


Posted by smc | Report as abusive

The thing that disturbs me even more than McCain and Palin’s insistence on repeating lies about Senator Obama, is the fact that Republicans don’t seem bothered by it.

THAT’S very scary. I even saw the right trying to defend “Joe the Plumber” after the truth about him being a McCain shill came out. There will always be politicians who lie, unfortunately, but no one is forced to vote for him.

Maybe it’s me, but I just don’t understand how anyone could vote for a politician who’s a PROVEN liar. How can McCain, Palin and their obedient sheep get to sleep at night? I really don’t understand. McCain and Palin have both been discovered by the empty cookie jar with chocolate all over their faces, but the right just says, “Aww, isn’t that cute; they’re lying about eating all the cookies and don’t even realize the evidence is clear and indisputable.” I can only conclude that those who still support these two frauds are also terrible parents and citizens in general.

What a laughing stock you’ve all made of the U.S. in front the free world. They’re all saying, “oh, look, there’s still a bunch of them willing to vote for more secrecy and double-talk!! Don’t Americans ever learn?”
I guess about 40% or so, haven’t learned a thing.
Thank goodness the majority sees the lies and prefers the honesty and integrity of Obama/Biden to do the hard work of turning this country around.

Posted by Tess | Report as abusive

Blinking increases with lying and the tendency to lie.

So I don’t get how this works. Don’t those who lie most tend to win? Everybody wants those empty promises. Maybe the trick is to tone down the LOOK of lying.

Whom can we trust?

Posted by Thomas | Report as abusive



1. the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

2. a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.

3. a literary genre comprising such compositions.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

Didn’t Sarah Palin already reprimand him about this once?

“When Putin rears his head, ya can’t blink! All that blinkin’ will get ’em to thinkin’, you betcha!”

Posted by Amy | Report as abusive

I used to pick juries for a living.

We NEVER wanted anyone who blinked like McCain.

Posted by small town girl | Report as abusive

McCain’s rapid blinking seemed so exaggerated. It made me uncomfortable looking at him. I don’t know if he suffers from dry eye, is sensitive to camara lights or what but it was soooo noticable.

It was easy for me to jump to the conclusion (fairly or not–i don’t know) that McCain was just plain uncomfortable. His body language did not command authority. His words are “sure” but his body language is often submissive: not looking at opponent, busy with his pin(doesn’t he have staff in the background making notes), and blinky, blinky, blinking with his eyes.

As president, he will be in a lot of uncomfortable situations. I’m not sure he has the confidence that is needed.

Posted by Heidi | Report as abusive

I believe in this analogy. It is true their actions show their confidence. It is proven, it’s not bunk. Think of it this way. When your talking to your kids about something they have done wrong. If you look at their eyes and gestures you can tell if they’re lying to you. If you’re a good parent you pick up on this when their young and can tell as they get older. Maybe that’s where the saying Mom has eyes inthe backof her head. We can pick up on things like that.

Posted by limbo | Report as abusive

If you google “excessive blinking” you will see that there are several reasons that would cause a person to ‘over-blink’. Some of the reasons are pretty serious medical issues. Tourette’s syndrome (manifests at facial tics, inappropriate verbalizations, etc) and Tardive Dyskonesia (usually manifests as uncontrolled facial grimaces caused by long term use of some of the older psychiatric meds)are two of the possibilities. Can also be caused by stress, and surely worsens when lying. Or, it could be something as simple as the lights were really bothering him??? Regardless of the cause, it sure caught my and my daughters attention in the first minute.

His facial expressions dont match his words. He has that passive-aggressive fake smile that most people find irritating, even if they cant quite put their finger on why. I am a professional Sign Language Interpreter and in American Sign Language, the “tone of voice” is shown on the face, rather than with the voice (obviously). Often his facial grammer has a sarcastic and condescending ‘tone’. I am suprised that he hasnt been coached not to do these things????

Posted by Peggy | Report as abusive

I suffer from dry eye myself & the dehydrating effect of the A/C which is on full blast contributes to my contact lenses sticking.You can be assured the A/C was on in the studio to help with Senator Obamas habit of sweating profusley when stressed (especially his upper lip-it glistens ). One of the “experts” out there this evening claims to have picked juries for a living (defense or prosecutor?)correct me if I’m wrong but sweating that noticeably is a disqualifier as well isn’t it?

Posted by Patrick F. | Report as abusive

Strange! However, McCain does appear to be a nervous wreck whenever he is questioned about anything. Just what this county needs another Bush!

Posted by sbharris | Report as abusive

What on earth is wrong with socialism, anyway? In case you hadn’t noticed, nationalising your banks is socialism. That’s before you even go into universal free education, welfare payments, free emergency healthcare, etc. . Wake up! You live in a country that practices socialist capitalism, only with not quite enough socialism.

Posted by Anna Wong | Report as abusive

Odd how the right tends to calls the left “extremist” in the States.

Truth is, American politics is FAR more right-wing than almost anywhere else in the world. For example, the Democrats are more conservative than the Canadian Conservative party. So for better or for worse, Republicans are actually the true “extreme” right. Democrats don’t even come close to extreme left.

As a side note, stating that democracy absolutely trumps socialism or vice-versa is just silly…every country has different problems of their own. So the ideal government must adjust accordingly.

Posted by Katie | Report as abusive

The world needs Barack Obama in this hour of darkness, Bush has wrecked the peoples hope so much and has disillusioned us so much that anyone who resembles like him makes us shudder and John McCain to an extend knows this a little too late and this has shaken his confidence and has contributed to his overblinking and sadly the loss of the white house.

Posted by Jackson Yogarajah | Report as abusive

I am sure Mr.Obama has spent a lots of money while defeating Ms.Hillary Clinton. That was fought almost like presidential election. He succeeded in beating her. This would not have been possible without money power. Now to beat Mr.McCaine also needs lots & lots of money power which he must be getting through his international connections. This is the reason why Stock market has lost money. Money movement sometimes is difficult to trace. Saying that money was never there is cheating oneself. There is always link between things happening around. Financial powers in USA appear to have united behind Mr.Obama as he appears to be beneficiary of the conditions.

Posted by Mukund | Report as abusive

Strip Krugman of his Nobel and hand it to Mukund, the genius who has figured out the real problem with our ailing economy!

Posted by raj | Report as abusive