Editor’s Note: The information below does not reflect the political opinions of either Karen Bradley or Ilana Bernstein.
Every word presidential candidates Donald Trump (R) and Hillary Clinton (D) say in public is examined, analyzed and interpreted. But what happens to the words not said: the movements, body positions and gestures each candidate makes?
Movement analyst and head of the MFA Dance Program at this university, Karen Bradley, understands a unique language, a language requiring no words. Bradley is trained to analyze the movement of humans and to interpret what she sees.
“Our job is to interpret, not for ourselves, but to interpret it for the reader,” Bradley said. “In other words, to find the language that matches what we see.”
Movement analysts are able to provide a distinct perspective in many situations, especially the presidential debates. Movements observed during debates include how much a candidate is leaning on the podium, gripping a pen or engaging directly with the moderator.
Bradley and a fellow colleague watched the first presidential debate together, a strategy used to help ensure objectivity. The two noticed a stark difference in body language between Trump and Clinton.
“We both agreed that both candidates started off in the first 30 seconds just fine, and what happened was that, as the debate went on, we saw Trump leaning in more, holding on to the podium, seemingly less supported in his lower body and needing to have the podium hold him up,” Bradley said. “We saw Sec. Clinton standing firmly, fully present, smiling a lot.”
What exactly do these differences in body language mean?
“Our interpretation of this was that [Clinton] was demonstrating that she’s healthy, she’s present, she’s smart, she’s available,” Bradley said. “Whereas I think [Trump] was somewhat unnerved by the situation.”
Particularly when it comes to politics, it’s important for movement analysts to be aware of personal biases.
“When we watch something like this, we try to be as objective as possible in the sense that we’re trying to open ourselves up to whatever we see,” Bradley said.
Bradley explained the fine line between partisanship and analyzing the movements of presidential candidates.
“In the past, we haven’t been partisan when we’ve done these,” Bradley said. “We’ve been very clear about what we see in each candidate. This just happened to be a very bad performance by Trump.”
Trump’s sniffing was another topic of concern for many viewers. Unlike others, Bradley was quick to explain she would never interpret such behavior as drug use or even a cold. Instead, Bradley and her colleague noted that Trump would lift his head up when he sniffed, appearing disdainful.
“It looked like he sniffed when he was feeling disdainful about something that Sec. Clinton was saying or that he was responding to something with disdain,” Bradley said.
Bradley was not the only person analyzing the candidates movements. Jonathan Mahler, a political correspondent for The New York Times, watched the entire first presidential debate with the sound muted.
In his article, Mahler explained that despite watching the debate with no sound, he came to the conclusion that Clinton had won.
“In that instant, it was clear that the debate had produced a winner, at least to those of us who hadn’t actually heard a word of what the candidates had said: Mrs. Clinton,” Mahler wrote.
“He had vibrated with anxiety; she had radiated cool confidence. He had seemed to be crawling out of his own skin; she had looked uncharacteristically comfortable in hers.”
While watching without sound, some of the words Mahler used to describe Trump’s behavior were “fidgeted,” “smirked,” “grimaced” and “squinted.” In comparison, Mahler explained Clinton had a sense of control when it came to her body movements.
“She seemed determined to make sure that her body language and facial expressions didn’t communicate frustration or irritation,” Mahler wrote.
Looking ahead to the second presidential debate, airing Oct. 9, Bradley highlighted some key details viewers should be watching for. She suggested paying close attention to Trump’s posture.
Bradley emphasized that viewers should look at “Trump’s degree of relaxation, his sense of presence and grounded-ness in his body.” Bradley also explained that viewers should look to see if Trump can maintain his composure, or “whether he disintegrates a little bit or starts holding on to something to steady himself.”
“I think we are going to look to Secretary Clinton to not be a little too gleeful or arrogant about this situation but to keep her sense of presence and make her views and positions known clearly,” Bradley said. “She has had trouble with that in the past. She did very well with it in the first debate.”
So what exactly is the reason for movement analysis? Bradley boiled it down for us.
“The whole point of the work that we do is not to disguise who they really are but to help them reveal who they really are,” said Bradley. “If I’m coaching somebody I want them to be genuine, I want them to show people who they really are, what they believe in, with conviction. Otherwise, what’s the point. [I am] not trying to get them to play another role other than themselves.”
Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of Ted Eytan on Flickr.
Ilana Bernstein is a junior journalism and theatre double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.