Gender, Candidate Emotional Expression, and Voter Reactions During Televised Debates

Gender, Candidate Emotional Expression, and Voter Reactions During Televised Debates

By Constantine Boussalis, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, Travis G. Coan, University of Exeter, United Kingdom, Mirya R. Holman, Tulane University, United States and Stefan Müller, University College Dublin, Ireland

Voters evaluate politicians not just by what they say, but also how they say it, via facial displays of emotions and vocal pitch. Candidate characteristics can shape how leaders use—and how voters react to—nonverbal cues. Drawing on role congruity expectations, we study how the use of and reactions to facial, vocal, and textual communication in political debates varies by candidate gender. Relying on full-length videos of four German federal election debates (2005–2017) and a minor party debate, we use video, audio, and text data to measure candidate facial displays of emotion, vocal pitch, and speech sentiment. Consistent with our expectations, Angela Merkel expresses less anger than her male opponents, but she is just as emotive in other respects. Combining these measures of emotional expression with continuous responses recorded by live audiences, we find that voters punish Merkel for anger displays and reward her happiness and general emotional displays.

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