Smiles Predicted the Trump Presidency




Behind the smiles: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Many believe JFK won 1960 election thanks, at least in part, to his smooth and marketable debate performance against Richard Nixon.

Previous research suggests that candidates’ emotions can play a role in presidential success: a study published in Political Psychology in 2012 found that voters are influenced by candidates' smiles. Viewers’ levels of happiness while watching a candidate debating has also been proven to predict their voting intentions; but what about the emotions of the candidates themselves?


At CrowdEmotion HQ, we were intrigued. To investigate the potential effects of candidate expressions on their voting public, we employed our ENGAGE facial coding platform to analyse the emotions on display during Trump and Clinton's final debate. The data can be found below.

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Trump's Emotion Timeseries

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Clinton's Emotion Timeseries



Each candidate’s performance at the debate was isolated from a split-screen recording of the debate. We analysed each video with our facial coding software, and recoded to minute-by-minute differences from the debate average per candidate. Facial coding analyses a participant’s emotions through their facial expressions using machine learning; the six universal expressions of emotion are happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, fear and sadness.

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At first glance, you would be forgiven for assuming that both candidates display similar levels of happiness throughout the debate, with Clinton exhibiting a few larger swings, ending on an emphatic level of happiness by the end.

However, taking into account the titles of the axes, this initial explanation is incorrect - the graph actually shows the change from each candidate's personal average level of in happiness, per minute. Hillary's varies to a greater extent, with some noticeable peaks and troughs in the last third of the event. 

Trump, in comparison, displays much more consistent levels of happiness throughout the debate - a calmer, less emotional ride than Clinton's, and arguably demonstrating the emotional characteristics of a winner.

Clinton’s highest average happiness occurs at the end of the debate, 92% happier than her personal average, a stark difference between Trump, who registered a 12% decrease in his own average happiness. Maybe Hillary's outward relief that the debate was over worked to her detriment.

How can you use this research to your advantage? We'd advise to smiling more consistently in your everyday interactions - the calmer, more composed and confident you appear, the more confidence you instil into others. Perhaps you could be shaking hands with the Supreme Leader of DPRK one day...