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Candidates' body language can tell a lot during debates

Published On: Oct 03 2012 08:00:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Oct 04 2012 06:35:42 PM EDT

The first of three presidential debates is officially in the books.

The first of three presidential debates is officially in the books, and according to one poll, Mitt Romney was the clear winner. 

The CNN/ORC poll surveyed more than 400 registered voters after the debate.  Sixty-seven percent said they thought Romney was the winner, while 25 percent sided with President Obama.

The debate focused on domestic policy, including unemployment, the deficit and health care.  And while we heard a lot from both candidates, were you paying attention to what they didn't say?  According to debate experts, body language can leave a lasting impressions on voters.


Once voters forget what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney said during Wednesday's face-off, they'll still remember the images they projected.

"Non-verbal communication really matters," explained Nichola Gutgold, associate professor of communications at Penn State Lehigh Valley.  "A person's vision for America is one thing, and how they communicate it is something entirely different."

Gutgold said the message matching the way it's conveyed through body language really matters in this election. 

"Romney gave a solid performance last night that our President simply didn't give," said Gutgold.

The debate started off strong for both men, shaking each other's hands warmly.  But after that, Gutgold said body language took center stage.

For example, during the first question, Obama wished his wife a happy anniversary.  Turn the sound off and Gutgold said you would have no idea he was happy or joyful.

"There was a sense of annoyance in both his voice and his non-verbal demeanor," she said.  "He simply did not look like he meant what he was saying."

Gutgold noted Romney came across as earnest and polished during the 90 minute debate.

"His eyes were wide open. He seemed very eager to convey his vision for America and he seemed well prepared." Gutgold said.

Obama, according to her, appeared flat and stammered and paused during many of his answers.

"To the moderator, to the crowd, and to his notes, I noticed, the president was looking last night, and not really at his opponent," added Gutgold.

With Obama slightly ahead in the polls before the debate, only a shift in numbers will show whether his debate body language has more than just a visual impact.