Monday, August 25, 2008

Joe Biden is "Trapped" by Irrelevancy

Let’s start with the newest Vice Presidential candidate, a TV spot from November 2007 by Biden critiquing the situation in Iraq. Aside from a good government spot by Obama and a clean energy spot by Richardson, no other commercial created by a Democratic candidate was so clearly relevant and resulted in as many second-by-second emotional data points as Biden’s. And that’s despite its fatal flaw.

Certainly, the opening is emotionally effective. Among the voters we tested, 14 of the first 17 seconds evoke a reaction. A provocative visual metaphor provides the explanation. Biden’s spot opens with video shot from the perspective of a person trapped below ground looking up out of a hole at a small patch of sunlight overhead. “Imagine you’re trapped deep in a hole,” the narrator begins, making the horror all the worse by adding: “with a group of politicians.”

On-cue and on-emotion, the high appeal score occasioned by the spot’s opening jab at politicians then takes a huge dip. Why? That’s because the narrator has then gone on to add, “President Bush says the only way out of Iraq is to dig us deeper and deeper.” Talk about being on-emotion: among the seven core emotions facial coding can gauge, 16% of the emotional response to this spot involves anxiety, a total exceeded only by the 19% McCain was able to generate while attacking Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience. Where does that anxiety become prevalent? The answer is that voters feel their greatest degree of anxiety on hearing that Bush is apparently in favor of digging America into an ever deeper hole in Iraq.

On-emotion yet again, the appeal score then recovers, lifts, and hits a pair of high points as viewers are promised, “We can get out now without leaving chaos behind.”

So far, so good - for the Biden campaign. Disaster, however, is around the corner. Right after second 17, the small patch of sunlight that had turned into an entire screen of hazy sunshine, is transformed. An image of Biden himself emerges, as if from heaven itself. He is hardly considered an archangel, as far as viewers are apparently concerned. Only a pair of emotional data points are garnered throughout the remainder of this spot, including when the narrator states Biden alone has “a plan to end this war responsibly”, concluding with “so our children don’t have to go back.”

Otherwise, from the moment Biden’s image comes on screen, the emotional data points stop. By the numbers, before Biden comes on screen, 82% of the commercial spurs an emotional response. When Biden appears, the percentage drops to 15%. In other words, is the Iraq war seen as a highly relevant issue? Absolutely. Was Biden seen as highly relevant in terms of providing a solution? No.

The bottom line here is that Biden could tout his foreign policy credentials all he wanted, but voters weren’t buying. Age was surely part of the explanation. “Forty four Senators are older than me,” I heard Biden say in one of his stump speeches, a fact that could leave listeners concerned about the retirement home known as Capitol Hill. Among the voters we interviewed, one quote best reflects this facial coding data. Biden was seen as an “old-style politician” who “doesn’t represent anything new.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

“Mr. Clean” caught in a dirty scandal

Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York, held a press conference on Monday, March 10th after being accused of paying for a tryst with a high-priced call girl from an international prostitution ring, the Emperor’s Club VIP.


With his shell-shocked wife by his side, Governor Spitzer made a brief statement. “I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my, or any sense of right and wrong,” clearly showing signs of tightness in his lips, indicating anger, disgust and sadness.

Combined 1;34 and 1;35

“I apologize first and most importantly, to my family. I apologize to the public, who I promised better.  I do not believe politics in the long run is about individuals. It’s about ideas, the public good and doing what is best for the people of New York. But I’ve disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I set for myself.”

The scandal centers around his stay at the Mayflower Hotel on February 13th, the same night court records show client #9 met with a prostitute at a Washington D.C. Hotel. The investigation began last summer, when a financial institution tipped of the IRS to unusual money movement. The IRS then contacted the FBI, who launched an investigation and began the wire tap. Law enforcement identified “Client #9” as Spitzer and the call girl as “Kristen” and called it far from a one shot deal. Client #9 had paid $4,300 in cash, some to be used as a down payment for future meetings.


He concluded by saying “I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.”  He told the press he would take no questions, thanked them, and said he would “report back in short order”. Immediately after his closing remarks, his lips clenched very tightly in anger, he turned toward his wife and they walked off out of the room.

The next day, Tuesday, March 11, Eliot Spitzer is considering his resignation as Governor of New York.

UPDATE: On March 12th, Spitzer announced his resignation from office, Citing Personal Failings

“I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me.  To every New Yorker, and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize.”

“Over the course of my public life, I have insisted — I believe correctly — that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct,” he added. “I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor.”

Monday, March 3, 2008


On Thursday, February 28, 2008, Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chief, testified before Congress, predicting the economy will pull through tough times without a recession. “I do very much believe that the U.S. economy will return to a strong growth path with price stability,” Bernanke told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Although optimistic and positive there will be no recession, there were tell-tale signs that his face expressed signs to the contrary.


When Mr. Bernanke says “we expect moderate growth going forward and we believe that if the housing sector begins to stabilize” he showed a slight sign of disgust and anger.


There were slight signs of sadness and annoyance when Mr. Bernanke said “there could be some strengthening of the economy mid-year”.

Friday, February 15, 2008

George Bush

President Bush signed legislation on Wednesday, February 13th, 2008, to send $300 to $1,200 rebate checks to millions of Americans as a "booster shot" for the economy.

President George Bush signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 on Wednesday, February 13th , “coming together in a single mission to put the people’s interests first.”


He thanked members of Congress for their hard work and leadership, and also recognized Cabinet Secretary Paulson in particular for his negotiations on the bill, joking “You’re earning your pay”, receiving a chuckle from the audience.


President Bush said “There are other ways we can work together during this rough patch” (Left image) pursing his lips in frustration. He addressed the mortgage foreclosure epidemic, and announced the creation of “Project Lifeline” a targeted outreach program to help at-risk homeowners (Right image) through the coordinated efforts of Secretaries Paulson and Jackson and the Hope Net Alliance.


Bush went on to say the “our economic success is not the result of the wisdom of politicians in Washington, D.C., but of the collective wisdom of the American people.”  “So long as we put forth pro-growth policies that put faith in the American people, our economy will prosper and will continue to be the marvel of the world. “


Bush generates a “true smile” as he signs the bill into action.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Joran Van der Sloot

Hidden camera footage broadcast in the Netherlands on Sunday night, February 3rd, 2008 showed Dutch student, Joran Van der Sloot saying he was with Natalee Holloway when she collapsed on an Aruban beach in May, 2005.  He said he believed she was dead and asked a friend to dump her body in the sea.

A series of conversations between Van der Sloot and a man he believed to be his friend were recorded in a Range Rover that had been rigged with three hidden cameras by Peter R. de Vries, a Dutch television crime reporter.  They were shown on Dutch television, drawing a record audience of 7 million viewers.

When Van der Sloot says, “It’s isn’t easy, not even now.” (0:27) he smiles.  Then he raises his upper lip in a sign of disgust as he turns his head away. (0:29)

Combined 0;27 and 0;29

Then, in his only sign of remorse in the tape, Van Der Sloot sucks in his lip, a sign of anxiety. (0:35)

00;35 anxiety

Van der Sloot smiles contemptuously when he says, “She’ll never be found” (0:39) and the corner of his mouth tightens and narrows.

00;39 smile

When asked if Natalee could have been in a coma at the time Van der Sloot had a friend take her body out to sea, he says, “Yeah, I wasn’t so sure about that, but it really startled me to death.”  (2:00) Patrick, the man Van der Sloot believed to be his friend, counters, “But she could’ve been in a coma”.  Van der Sloot then casually tilts his head and smiling slightly says, “Yeah” (2:04) showing a touch of disgust as his upper lip raises.

02;04 disgust

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Moment

While on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton spoke at a Portsmouth coffee shop on Monday, January 7th, 2008 with a group of 16 undecided voters. When she was asked how she remains “so upbeat and wonderful” under the stress of the campaign trail, Clinton responded in an uncharacteristically (as we’ve come to know her in the public eye) emotional, personal way.

After responding, “You know, I have so many opportunities from this country; I just don’t want to see us fall backwards.” Senator Clinton’s eyes well up with tears for a moment and she shakes her head “no”, her voice trailing off.

What she showed in that famous 1 min. 48 seconds, fits into three categories.

Social Smile
Despite the “Moment” being famous for Senator Clinton suddenly showing vulnerability, she showed numerous social smiles throughout, including when she reacts to the question of who does her hair and acknowledging that the campaign trail is tiring.

She also showed a fair number of angry, determined looks. When referencing her opponents’ readiness for the office, Clinton makes the point that “some of us are right, and some of us are wrong”, she becomes very steely-eyed and tightens her lips.

Misty Eyes
Finally, there are the other notable examples of body language. These include Clinton’s quavering voice, brief quivering upper lip and the eyes seemingly misting with tears. She rests her hand on her cheek, microphone in the other, while making direct eye contact.


Overall, Clinton managed to mix relaxed, social smiles with mini-flashes of anger all in righteous indignation while attacking opponents. This performance was far from an emotional breakdown; however, we were all afforded a glimpse of the softer, more human side of Senator Clinton.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Roger Clemens

During Roger Clemens' interview on 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace  asked him some very important questions.  There were 2 key parts to the interview where Clemens didn't portray the emotions one would expect of a completely innocent person.  First is where Wallace was citing the specific incidents Brian McNamee had mentioned and second being when Clemens was asked if he'd take a lie detector test.


Specific Examples

While Wallace was reading off the specific examples, we could see that Clemens was nervous.  He gulped and looked away frequently, as well as showing flashes of anger in connection with sadness.  It's the combination of these things that is particularly interesting.


Lie detector

Later in the interview, Wallace asks Clemens about a lie detector test.  Clemens showed some strong emotions consisting of nervousness and fear with his mouth pulling wider.


Throughout the interview, he often appeared angry and indignant about the charges.  Given the emotions he was showing, the scale tips more towards ongoing suspicion.

His original video posted to youtube also told a similar story.  I was interviewed about it here.