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Does Rick Santorum Have a Blinking Problem?

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Santorum blinks while speaking at more than twice the rate of the rest of the GOP field

ricksantorum02.jpgWhile research may not be settled regarding whether people who lie blink more often than those who tell the truth, potential voters are no doubt more at ease with a candidate who looks them straight in the eyes and does not pepper their speech with repetitive non-verbal tics.

If that's the case, one Republican candidate may be in a lot of trouble.

A Smart Politics analysis of non-verbal communication patterns during Saturday's ABC GOP presidential debate finds that Rick Santorum blinks at a rate of 61 times per minute while speaking, which is more than twice the average rate of the remaining five members in the field.

Smart Politics tabulated 2,284 on-camera blinks when candidates were speaking at the ABC debate, and Santorum accounted for 35 percent of them.

Santorum, who spoke for 12 minutes and 55 seconds in Saturday's debate, blinked 793 times while delivering verbal remarks, or 61.4 times per minute - much higher than the average person's rate of approximately 20-25 times per minute.

The rest of the GOP field blinked 1,491 times or just 27.8 times per minute of speech.

Santorum eclipsed the 100-blink mark during three of his responses and also frequently displayed a non-verbal tic of looking down and to his right while delivering answers to the moderator or responding to statements made by other candidates.

In short, Santorum's non-verbal communication cues do not make him look comfortable, and, as a result, they do not put the viewer at ease when watching him.

After Santorum, the next most frequent blinkers in the field Saturday were Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman - each blinking an average of 33.9 times per minute.

Romney - who spoke nearly seven and a half more minutes than Santorum, blinked over 100 fewer times (691).

The rate of Romney's blinking seemed tied to his comfort level with the topic on which he was speaking.

The one instance in which Romney's blinking accelerated was during the uncomfortable exchange between the former Massachusetts governor and moderator George Stephanopoulos on the issue of whether states had the right to outlaw contraception. No matter how many times Romney tried to put this issue to rest, the moderator kept coming back at him.

But later in the debate, when Romney was confronted with a question he did not want to answer on why his tax plan did not close all loopholes, he brazenly avoided the question and slipped into a variation of his stump speech he has delivered countless times.

During that response, his blinking rate decreased notably - blinking just 41 times in his 109-second response, or 22.6 times per minute.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the candidates who are most unwavering in looking voters straight in the eyes (at least through the camera lens) are the field's two Texans.

Rick Perry blinked at a rate of just 15.9 times per minute with Ron Paul coming in at 17.1.

Perry - one may recall - has spoken about the need for politicians to look Americans in the eye and tell them the truth, such as when it came to the issue of Social Security's solvency back in September's debate in Tampa, Florida:

"But the idea that we have not had the courage to stand up and look Americans in the face, young mid-career professionals or kids that are my children's age and look them in the eye and said, listen, this is a broken system." - Rick Perry

The only instance in which Congressman Paul's blinking rate became animated occurred when Stephanopoulos asked him about the controversial newsletters written under his name from two decades ago that have been criticized for being racist.

During his 95-second response, an agitated Paul blinked 40 times for a 61 percent higher rate (25.3 times per minute) than the rest of his speaking time during the debate (15.7 times per minute).

Blinks Per Minute of Speaking Time During ABC New Hampshire GOP Presidential Debate

Candidate
Blinks
Minutes
Per Minute
Rick Santorum
793
12.9
61.4
Mitt Romney
691
20.4
33.9
Jon Huntsman
319
9.4
33.9
Newt Gingrich
212
7.7
27.7
Ron Paul
186
10.9
17.1
Rick Perry
83
5.2
15.9
Data excludes the small percentage of time in which the candidate was not caught on camera while speaking due to cutaways to other candidates, shots from behind the candidate's head, or distant shots from the back of the auditorium. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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Previous post: Romney Notches 30 Percent of Speaking Time in Weekend's New Hampshire Debates
Next post: Perry's New Hampshire Tally Shy of Morry Taylor, Phil Crane, and George Romney

3 Comments


  • While I understand that lights from the cameras might make it physically more important to blink more frequently, your analysis here seems right on target. And by extension, it would not be at all surprising if Huntsman is out of the field very soon.

  • There must be a problem in his eyes when it comes to spotlight. Is it really important to record the blinks of presidential candidates? just asking....

  • I'm with you on the indicative value of tics and looking people in the eye. Does Santorum have contact lenses? Even if modern ones are really lightweight, it's not natural to have something floating on your eye, and probably still takes getting used to. It would stop after a while - is it a years-long habit of his, or recently new? Since he started campaigning? People tend to get a stumbling catch in their speech when they're lying - another one of those Acting or Psychology 101 things...

  • Leave a comment


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