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Body Language in the Vice Presidential Debate

Did Gender Differences Play a Role? Experts Weight In

Vice Presidential Debate Scorecard continued...


According to Koegel, Joe Biden wins this one. He had more movement than Sarah Palin. She was flailing her pen around," which could have been distracting.

Goman says both candidates were guilty of pointing with a pen. And Biden did more finger-pointing in general, a gesture that is typically not well received. Occasionally, Biden used an open-handed chop instead, which comes off as more polite. Biden also had a nice gesture when he discussed "reaching across the aisle," Goman says.

6. Facial Expressions: Did the candidates smile sincerely and make good eye contact?



Palin - 4

Biden - 4



Palin - 4

Biden - 3



Palin - 3

Biden - 4.5



Palin - 3.7

Biden- 3.8


According to Roberts, "They had very good interactive eye contact with one another. They had fabulous eye contact with the camera as well." But, Roberts adds, Palin's winks and smiles were "a little over the top."

Goman also found the winks troubling. "She winked three times -- once when she was talking about her track record of reform." That's an example where body language undermines the message. Another example was when Palin "shook her head 'no' while making statements in the affirmative." Goman saw Palin do this several times, once when she was stating that McCain can bring both sides together. "There's some type of internal conflict there," Goman says.

Turning to Koegel, his first thought was, "Biden could have smiled more, and Palin could have smiled less." Biden's weakness was the "deadpan" look that accompanied some of his longer answers. But he did a good job of making eye contact with Palin, the moderator, and the camera. Palin looked at the camera for most of the debate, which Koegel feels is less conversational.

Goman says it's no small point that Palin favored the camera with her eye contact. "That was a very positive thing for her to do." It was "absolutely congruent" with her message of talking directly to the American people.

Final Thoughts

From the very first handshake, this debate was more cordial than the first presidential debate, Koegel tells WebMD. The candidates "genuinely seemed interested in meeting each other and talking about the issues. They were both passionate about their topics and organized in their message." Although Koegel did not choose a winner, he believes the debate benefited Palin more. Expectations were low after her recent television interviews, and her solid performance in the debate may have changed some impressions.

Goman says Biden won. "If you were just reading the transcript, he would have won by a bigger margin. But if you look at all the body language, he only edged her out." The reason? "[Palin] really stepped up." She avoided the "deer in the headlights look" and exceeded expectations.

"Overall it was a very pleasant debate," Roberts says. "We didn't get aggression from Palin or condescension from Biden." She gives Biden the win, but "only by a smidgen and only because I think he looked more vice presidential and certainly more presidential, based on his body language and non-hesitant answers." She adds that Palin's goal was not to win a debate, but to show that she could do the job. "There is no doubt that she held her own. ... She gave us a much better vision of who she is and what she knows." Win or no-win, Palin "helped herself and the ticket."


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