U researcher predicts election from no. of blinks

Obama blinked 1,000 times more than Romney during the debate.

Jessica Lee

Analysts of last Wednesday’s presidential debate almost unanimously deemed Republican candidate Mitt Romney as the winner — not only for presentation but also for nonverbal communication.

Eric Ostermeier, research associate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, conducted an experiment counting the number of times President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney blinked during the debate.

The president blinked at a rate of 71 times per minute — 1,000 times more than Romney, who blinked 53 times per minute.

“Obama was criticized for appearing uncomfortable and was often caught looking down at his notes,” Ostermeier said. “The rapid-fire blinking was a sign he was searching for answers.”

Joseph Tecce, Boston College associate professor and psychophysiologist, found in a study that the candidate who blinks the least during debates has generally won the election since 1980.

“It’s a nonverbal cue that shows someone is ill at ease,” Ostermeier said.

While doing his research, Ostermeier found studies that showed the average person blinks at a rate of approximately 20 to 25 times per minute, so both candidates were batting their lids at an elevated rate — Obama doing so three times more frequently.

“Different elements contribute to blinking, like contacts or sensitivity to light,” he said. “But the high numbers show Obama was uncomfortable.”

Ostermeier plans to conduct the same experiment for future presidential debates leading up to the 2012 election.

“Basically I just DVR it and painstakingly go through it, hour after hour,” he said. “I get so focused on the candidate’s eyes that I start thinking about my own blinking, and then I have to go back and rewind and start counting again.”

Despite the long process, Ostermeier finds gratification from getting the concrete facts that support people’s general thoughts.

“People might think Obama didn’t do well, but they might not pick up on something like this,” he said. “It’s interesting getting numbers that support the common belief.”