Smiles by the 2012 Republican Candidates for President

42 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 9 Aug 2012

See all articles by Patrick A. Stewart

Patrick A. Stewart

University of Arkansas

Erik Bucy

Texas Tech University

Marc Mehu

University of Geneva

Date Written: 2012


The smiles of politicians are considered a key component of their success, allowing them to nonverbally connect with potential voters and strengthen their connection with supporters. Smiles, however, are not unitary displays; they are multifaceted and variant in their intent and what they can accomplish due to variations in the way they may be displayed, as well as within the context they occur. With this in mind, this study expands upon the groundbreaking work on facial display behavior carried out by the Dartmouth Group over two decades ago by focusing on smiles displayed by Republican Party presidential candidates during the 2012 pre-primary period. We first review literature concerning different types of smiles that may be used as social signals as well as the role of different facial movements in political communication. We then analyze smiles in a three step process with the first step evaluating the displays through the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), which codes for muscular movements. We next assess whether respondents watching short videos of these facial displays differentiate between the types of smiles in terms of the happiness-reassurance and anger-threat the Republican candidates felt at that time. We conclude by considering the content of the utterances that preceded and presumably initiated audience laughter and/or applause allowing us to triangulate our findings through three different methodologies (content analysis, web-experiment, and qualitative analysis) thus providing insight into this most prevalent and arguably most important of all facial displays.

Keywords: Presidency, smiles, Facial Action Coding System, 2012 election

Suggested Citation

Stewart, Patrick A. and Bucy, Erik and Mehu, Marc, Smiles by the 2012 Republican Candidates for President (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Patrick A. Stewart (Contact Author)

University of Arkansas ( email )

Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

Erik Bucy

Texas Tech University

Marc Mehu

University of Geneva ( email )

102 Bd Carl-Vogt
Genève, CH - 1205

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