Skip to main content

Candidate Confidence and Electoral Appeal: An Experimental Study of the Effect of Nonverbal Confidence on Voter Evaluations


The nonverbal display of confidence is strongly associated with leadership and power. However, its importance for the persuasiveness of campaign messages has not been explored. How important is showing confidence for a political candidate’s ratings? How does confidence condition the effect of the quality of a candidate’s arguments? This article addresses these questions using an innovative experimental approach that makes it possible to better isolate the impact of the candidate’s nonverbal confidence and the quality of his message. While both of these aspects influence voters’ perceptions of the candidate’s electability and qualifications, the nonverbal dimension matters more when it comes to electability. This research contributes to the study of nonverbal communication in elections by expanding the focus of inquiry beyond the effect of pure emotions (happiness or anger) and facial traits.

Hide All
Delia Dumitrescu is Postdoctoral Fellow in the Multidisciplinary Opinion and Democracy Research Group, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, Box 711, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden ( Elisabeth Gidengil is Hiram Mills Professor, Department of Political Science, McGill University, Room 414, Leacock Building, 855 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T7, Canada ( Dietlind Stolle is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, McGill University, Room 414, Leacock Building, 855 Sherbrooke Street West Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T7, Canada ( This study received support from the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship ( and from the VP Research at McGill University. We are grateful to Stuart Soroka, J. Scott Matthews and two anonymous referees for their insightful comments, and to Marc Trussler and Joe Heywood for their research assistance. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit
Hide All
Ames Daniel R., and Flynn Francis J.. 2007. ‘What Breaks a Leader: The Curvilinear Relation between Assertiveness and Leadership’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92(2):307324.
Atkinson Max. 2004. Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need To Know about Making Speeches & Presentations. New York: Oxford University Press.
Awamleh Raed, and Gardner William L.. 1999. ‘Perceptions of Leader Charisma and Effectiveness: The Effects of Vision Content, Delivery, and Organizational Performance’. The Leadership Quarterly 10(3):345373.
Bartels Larry M. 1988. Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Birch Susan A.J., Akmal Nazanin, and Frampton Kristen L.. 2010. ‘Two-year olds are vigilant of others’ non-verbal cues to credibility’. Developmental Science 13(2):363369.
Carli Linda L., LaFleur Suzanne J., and Loeber Christopher C.. 1995. ‘Nonverbal Behavior, Gender, and Influence’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68(6):10301041.
Chong Dennis, and Druckman James N.. 2007. ‘Framing Public Opinion in Competitive Democracies’. American Political Science Review 101(04):637655.
Collingwood Loren, Barreto Matt A., and Donovan Todd. 2012. ‘Early Primaries, Viability and Changing Preferences for Presidential Candidates’. Presidential Studies Quarterly 42(2):231255.
Cook Jeff Scott. 1989. The Elements of Speechwriting and Public Speaking. New York: Macmillan.
Dumitrescu Delia. 2010. ‘Know Me, Love Me, Fear Me: The Anatomy of Candidate Poster Designs in the 2007 French Legislative Elections’. Political Communication 27(1):2043.
Hall Crystal C., Goren Amir, Chaiken Shelly, and Todorov Alexander. 2009. ‘Shallow Cues with Deep Effects: Trait Judgments from Faces and Voting Decisions’. In The Political Psychology of Democratic Citizenship, edited by E. Borgida, C.M. Federico and J.L. Sullivan, 7399. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Krauss Robert M., Apple William, Morency Nancy, Wenzel Charlotte, and Winton Ward. 1981. ‘Verbal, Vocal, and Visible Factors in Judgments of Another’s Affect’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 40(2):312320.
Marsh Kerry L., Hart-O'Rourke Dawn M., and Julka Deana L.. 1997. ‘The Persuasive Effects of Verbal and Nonverbal Information in a Context of Value Relevance’. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23(6):563579.
Mackie Diane M., Worth Leila T., and Asuncion Arlene G.. 1990. ‘Processing of Persuasive In-group Messages’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58(5):812822.
McGraw Kathleen. 2011. ‘Candidate Impressions and Evaluations’. In Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science, edited by J.N. Druckman, D.P. Green, J.H. Kuklinski and A. Lupia, 187200. Cambridge University Press.
McHugo Gregory J., Lanzetta John T., Sullivan Denis G., Masters Roger D., and Englis Basil G.. 1985. ‘Emotional Reactions to a Political Leader’s Expressive Displays’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49(6):15131529.
Nagel Friederike, Maurer Marcus, and Reinemann Carsten. 2012. ‘Is There a Visual Dominance in Political Communication? How Verbal, Visual, and Vocal Communication Shape Viewers' Impressions of Political Candidates’. Journal of Communication 62(5):833850.
Noller Patricia. 1985. ‘Video Primacy—A Further Look’. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 9(1):2847.
Northouse Peter. G. 2007. Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Park Hee Sun, Levine Timothy R., Westerman Catherine Y. Kingsley, Orfgen Tierney, and Foregger Sarah. 2007. ‘The Effects of Argument Quality and Involvement Type on Attitude Formation and Attitude Change: A Test of Dual-Process and Social Judgment Predictions’. Human Communication Research 33(1):81102.
Pease Andrew, and Brewer Paul R.. 2008. ‘The Oprah Factor: The Effects of a Celebrity Endorsement in a Presidential Primary Campaign’. The International Journal of Press/Politics 13(4):386400.
Rickershauser Jill, and Aldrich John H.. 2007. ‘“It’s the electability, stupid”− or maybe not? Electability, Substance, and Strategic Voting in Presidential Primaries’. Electoral Studies 26(2):371380.
Riggio Heidi R., and Riggio Ronald E.. 2010. ‘Appearance-Based Trait Inferences and Voting: Evolutionary Roots and Implications for Leadership’. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 34(2):119125.
Rosenberg Shawn W., Bohan Lisa, McCafferty Patrick, and Harris Kevin. 1986. ‘The Image and the Vote: The Effect of Candidate Presentation on Voter Preference’. American Journal of Political Science 30(1):108127.
Shipman Amanda S., and Mumford Michael D.. 2011. ‘When Confidence is Detrimental: Influence of Overconfidence on Leadership Effectiveness’. The Leadership Quarterly 22(4):649665.
Spezio Michael L., Loesch Laura, Gosselin Frédéric, Mattes Kyle, and Alvarez R. Michael. 2012. ‘Thin-Slice Decisions Do Not Need Faces to be Predictive of Election Outcomes’. Political Psychology 33(3):331341.
Stewart Patrick A., Waller Bridget M., and Schubert James N.. 2009. ‘Presidential Speechmaking Style: Emotional Response to Micro-expressions of Facial Affect’. Motivation and Emotion 33(2):125135.
Sullivan Denis G., and Masters Roger D.. 1988. ‘“Happy Warriors”: Leaders’ Facial Displays, Viewers’ Emotions, and Political Support’. American Journal of Political Science 32(2):345368.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Replication Materials on Dataverse

Dumitrescu et al Datasets

Supplementary Materials

Dumitrescu Supplementary Material

 PDF (402 KB)
402 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 85 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 518 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 12th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.