In 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy Jr. appeared in the first televised presidential debate in American history. Nixon, recovering from a knee injury, appeared unshaven, pale, and sickly. In contrast, Kennedy appeared well rested and confident. Nixon later wrote: "I had never seen him looking so fit." An estimated 70 million viewers tuned in to watch the first debate. While the television audience overwhelmingly believed Kennedy was victorious, radio listeners believed Nixon had won.
The Nixon-Kennedy debate is a popular anecdote for the power of self-presentation in influencing voters during an election cycle. For some analysts, body language and non-verbal communication are some of the most important factors in determining who comes out on top on Election Day.
Don Khoury, a nonverbal communication consultant in Boston, runs Body Language TV, a website dedicated to scoring electoral debates. "We've been following as many gubernatorial elections as we can," Khoury says. "We believe that our predictions will ring true. We're hoping that we can beat the national polling firms." Khoury and his team have scored hundred of U.S. gubernatorial debates since 2000. The Body Language TV team focuses primarily on gubernatorial debates, as Khoury explains, because senatorial and congressional debates lack the same television exposure and therefore provide fewer opportunities for the electorate to visually evaluate candidates. [Disclosure: Khoury occasionally provides analysis for my father, Jon Keller, a political analyst for CBS4 in Boston.]