Analyzing The Faces Of Republican Candidates

Commentators continue to guess at whether GOP candidates at the June 13 debate in New Hampshire will live up to their promises. But their faces never lie. Sensory Logic’s Dan Hill analyzes their expressions for Fast Company to reveal what traditional pundits can’t.

Analyzing The Faces Of Republican Candidates
June 13 2001 Republican Presidential debate


For those following the cycle of punditry, the June 13th GOP presidential debate from New Hampshire is all tucked in and sealed with a yawn. The consensus: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney strengthened his frontrunner standing; Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty blew it; Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann broke through to gain the most.

But facial coding expert Dan Hill saw a different story unfold. He performed an analysis on the debaters’ mugs Monday night exclusively for Fast Company and says: Romney did not enhance his status; Pawlenty performed admirably on an emotional front; and Bachmann exposed her weakness.

Hill, who’s been featured on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The Today Show, and more, has been using his proprietary facial emotional analysis to track and predict elections since 2004 (read more about the science behind the analysis here). The CIA and FBI employ facial coding techniques based on the scientific foundation Hill uses. And, most importantly, he’s correctly called a number of races when the punditry pack has flailed. Hill predicted then candidate, now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would rebound in New Hampshire after a disastrous Iowa effort in 2007 because “her emotional, connective abilities had improved.” And she did. Earlier this year, Hill’s facial “Cartesian Analysis” (rating the candidates’ expressions for “impact” or intensity, and “appeal” or positivity) indicated former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels were not likely to run. They’re not. And former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin won’t run either, Hill is saying.

Many of us, remember, vote for the person, not the party or policies. “Fifty-five percent of how people take in what is being communicated comes not from words (only 8%), but instead from the communicator’s facial expressions,” Hill says. We choose friends based on the emotional connection we get, not a scientific compatibility analysis.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of how it all played out June 13th from Hill’s perspective.


Mitt Romney

The frontrunner showed the highest “appeal” (positive attitude) among the hopefuls. But Hill says he emitted very low “impact” (intensity) and “looked timid and wan thanks to weak social smiles.” This means Romney will have trouble exciting voters (again). His “soft” support leaves him vulnerable to attacks and potentially new entrants into the race (like Texas Governor Rick Perry or Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman). Romney also emits an unusually high level of fear (“not fear for America’s future, but a lack of political courage,” Hill says). He exudes the electricity (and perhaps entitlement) of former Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and Al Gore.

Tim Pawlenty

The former hockey player scored high on intensity–displaying an anger that may resonate in the land today–without going negative or directly body-checking Romney, figuratively speaking. Hill says it is smart strategy for a relative unknown like Pawlenty to define who he is first, not who he is against, and notes that Obama (President) and former South Carolina Senator John Edwards waited until October 2007 to go on the attack against Hillary Clinton.


Michele Bachmann

Freshly announcing her candidacy at the debate in Manchester, the Tea Party favorite radiated some positive energy but also couldn’t mask what appeared to be strong fear (about America’s future), which is not what the electorate wants (Pawlenty’s anger is preferable, wins over Bachmann’s fear) from the commander-in-chief.

To be fair, very few candidates measure up to what Hill says is the ideal set of traits: “Intense but not too intense, engaged, projects hope, isn’t too saccharine.” Former President Ronald Reagan, also known as “The Great Communicator,” may come closest here according to Hill.

Here’s what the Cartesian Analysis of the candidates’ faces shows us this time around:


Hill’s June 13th observations on the rest of the field:


  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the candidate, is dead. His face produced the smallest amount of energy by far. The campaign is literally and figuratively WTF.
  • After having “won” the South Carolina debate, Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain lost ground with a more downbeat approach that involved verbal missteps about Muslims.
  • Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum managed the worst output of “disgust (upper lip curled) and fear (mouth pulled wide).”
  • While Texas Representative Ron Paul gets kudos for being authentic, the “indignation, disgust, wincing sadness and fear” he displayed will not be a winning campaign package.


Of course these are just early glances at the GOP faces of 2012. The race will take on a new life when it moves beyond pundit green rooms to farmers’ markets in Iowa and coffee shops in New Hampshire. But that is precisely when the candidates, their real faces and flesh, perhaps more than slick ads, policy papers and money machines, will drive our voting decisions.

Read more: The GOP Contenders Face Off

[Top image: Getty Images]


About the author

When Kevin isn't writing for Fast Company, The New York Times (2X Page One, Dalai Lama interview), Vanity Fair or The Economist, he's consulting ( turning client brands into fast businesses. Kevin's advised leadership at a top space exploration company, Google and Harvard University on branding and research