Presidential Debates

200 minutes of questions, with many firsts: more would-be presidents on stage debating than ever before, more women candidates, the questioners will be not just be white men. We’re talking this week’s democratic debates spread over two nights. Political pundits predict a circus.

So what should we watch for? 

First of all, those in the back of the pack must shine if they want to raise money and get endorsements. They can’t be cautious. It’s prime time TV – a chance to get their messages out to voters who have yet to see them in action.  But it’s a perplexing job: they must appear confident and authoritative, yet grab attention in a world where audience attention spans are shorter than those of goldfish. Their tactics could range from making lots of noise, picking fights with the front runners, and using overt body language. But it could backfire, especially for the women.   Research at the Barbara Lee family foundation shows that “while debates require, and men are rewarded for, assertiveness, women pay a higher price for contrasting themselves with or ‘going negative’ on their opponents.” Ah, that double standard again.

The front runners will have to face those distractions while keeping cool, tempering frustration, and being likable. Why? Because likability matters more. And that’s where body language is crucial. 


So watch arm movements: the bigger and bolder, the less secure the candidate.  Raised eyebrows signal surprise, and could mean a verbal blow is coming. Roving eye contact: nervousness, distraction. And finger pointing is like scolding. Not a way to be likable. Smiles are – when appropriate.

And lastly watch what they wear, another careful calculation:

probably sure bets:

Kamala Harris pearls

Pete Buttigieg with his every guy blue tie

Elizabeth Warrens black pants and jewel colored jackets

Joe Biden will leave the aviator sunglasses at home. 

Keep a scorecard—would love to know your thoughts!