Turn Down the Sound

By Ken Feltman

If you turn down the sound while watching the Republican presidential candidates, you may get a different impression from the one you get with the sound on. What that means is not clear without a lot more research, but it is intriguing. A woman in California concluded, “Without the voices I took an instant dislike to (one candidate) and I watched the facial expressions and their eyes. That was very revealing, weird in a way, like they were naked.”

Here are reactions to the GOP candidates:

Mitt Romney: “This guy has a mean streak.” “I liked him but now I see something and I don’t like him.” “He has this glare.” “His eyes show he is cold.” “Not real friendly, is he?”

Newt Gingrich: “He appears to be pompous.” “He thinks he better than us.” “He’s sure full of himself.” “He thinks he’s special.” “He’s lecturing … and he needs to be in a classroom.” “He’s got a very strong opinion of himself.”

Ron Paul: “He just looks confused.” “His arms, like he’s getting ready to flap off to another planet.” “It’s scary to see how stupid he looks without sound.” “I just got this uncomfortable feeling.”

Michele Bachmann: “Her eyes.” “She looks like she has trouble understanding what’s going on.” “Vacant.”

Rick Perry: “The way his mouth is open a lot when he’s listening, as if he doesn’t follow it.” “He’s arrogant.” “He doesn’t look like he gets it.” “He’s pushy.” “He shows up as real cocky.”

Jon Huntsman: “He has a noticeable smirk.” “He shows his boredom.”

Did any Republican candidate fare better without the sound? Herman Cain ran away with the soundless debates. Voters mentioned his “presence,” “smile,” and his “clear eyes” or “intelligent eyes.” Rick Santorum was the only other candidate who got more favorable than unfavorable comments.

The Democrats would not be pleased with the reactions to soundless speeches by President Obama. Some voters used words and expressions such as “preachy,” “arrogant,” “talking down,” and “pointing and blaming us.”

Do these impressions come through, however filtered and diluted, to voters who watch and listen while distracted or preoccupied, as many of us do much of the time? One thing is sure: If party leaders come up with anything close to these unscientific findings, they are going to think twice before again exposing presidential candidates to the close-up scrutiny of multiple and frequent debates.

If they decide there is any truth in the research, party professionals will work first to limit the damage. They will want to know whether everyone is diminished by debate-style exposure to the camera. Then some will try to take advantage of the situation by coaching their candidates.

Whatever happens, someone will be elected. A good question: How damaged we allow the candidates to become before we must elect one?

Also published in Politico.com and Inside Washington’s Headlines

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About Ken Feltman

Ken Feltman is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists. He is chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Feltman founded the U.S. and European Conflict Indexes in 1988. The indexes have predicted the winner of every U.S. presidential election beginning in 1988, plus the outcome of several European elections. In May of 2010, the Conflict Index was used by university students in Egypt. The Index predicted the fall of the Mubarak government within the next year.
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