In debates, McCain loses blinking contest to Obama
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.