Presidential Body Language 2020

As the 2020 race for president draws to a close, according to Gallup polling U.S. voters are feeling both enthusiastic about voting with a record high 64% strongly agreeing with the statement that they are ‘afraid of what will happen if my candidate for president does not win’ and fearful of what the outcome will mean for the country.  

Most also agree that the stakes are higher than in previous presidential elections.

Communicating authentically is pivotal to gain connection and elevate career success

Research shows that at least 55% of our communication is delivered via body language, 38% through tone of voice and only 7% through the actual words we speak. The benefits of recognising the subtle messages sent as well as projecting confidence and putting others at ease is huge, and pivotal for political candidates to make the impact they desire to get people on side.  The way people initiate a connection with their audience tells a lot about their agenda and what they want to achieve. 

The debates are over so what does Trump and Biden's body language tell us?  

During this brief analysis offering an overview of general body language, alongside some important body language cues observed from candidates on the election trail. We will assess the overall aspects of the candidates from a body language analysis perspective on :  Power - Presence - Connection 

The 1st and 2nd debate varied considerably, probably due to  extra coaching after the 1st debate which reflected non-armed attacking gladiators fighting in a brawl, showing neither party at their best. Most politicians or people in power are coached and rehearse many times before hand and events are stage managed to show the candidate in the best possible light... usually!

However the underlying character of each candidate shone through their behaviour, posture, gestures, facial expressions alongside the stressor and attack signals showing more of their underlying personality.  

Power and Leadership

At the onset of the debate Trump takes a more aggressive power stance widening his upper body taking up more space as he grabbed the side of the podium.  Whilst Biden stands more humbly with his hands by his sides.

Trump often likes to exhibit a show of power and aggression as a show of strength. Whilst Biden primary aim appears to be to connect with the people from a non-confrontational united perspective, which is reflected in their different styles and non-verbal signals 

They both show an upright powerful posture facing the mediator. But interestingly neither have a widened leg stance, which is often used when natural confidence is present. Suggesting a nervousness as both parties have their legs close together, despite the upper body posture of Trump. 

Most people want their president to be serious and approachable and exude a power and competence that they can trust.  This can often be shown in posture, facial expressions and hand gestures.

The hardened lowered eyelids and serious stare, alongside raised chin, upright posture, 
hands clapped together above the waist shows a powerful focused determination. 
'I shall not be moved'

The furrowed brow, focused stare, alongside upright posture with a partial-basketball,
chop hand gesture shows a determination 
to lead whilst creating connection. 
'I'm serious about leading you'

When hands are used near the head it's an expansive gesture to inspire others
or alternatively it can show exasperation.

Using a hand chop gesture with a pen with the right hand shows he's prepared,
wanting to focus others, take charge and offer direction.

Fighters Fists exhibit a show of power with a willingness to fight to get
what the person wants and can often
galvanises others to fight with you to win. 

Donald Trump has his own unique gestures to make a point saying it is 'ok'
to part of the world, with the same gesture insulting the other half of the world.

Whilst Jo Biden sticks to a balanced more traditional approach. 

Our hands often show how our brain works, whether we're a
more linear, logical or a creative out of the box thinker. 

Trump's classic accordion backward-forward hand gestures shows
he's often thinking creatively on the spot in the moment. 
He then pushes his hands towards the audience to offer them his ideas.

Alternatively Biden's hand gestures are directed directly to the audience
from the onset, they are more linear, balanced, prepared and focused.

Presence or Stressed
Good leaders adopt the natural body language of a director - maintaining an upright open stance, looking down slightly, smiling less, carrying a strong  sense of being in charge of themselves with a more dominant stance to create greater presence. 

Leadership Presence is an intangible quality that empowers the individual and inspires others. Through self-awareness, emotional intelligence and conscious communication the ability to positively influence situations is elevated and expanded to gain greater respect, recognition and increase results.. 

Both candidates use hand gestures to direct or make a point whilst holding
 the podium with the left hand, stabilising themselves emotionally.

Biden stands front on in a balanced way, while Trump leans forward on the right
holding the emotional side of his body fixed, being more action orientated.

Holding the index finger up can be a way to make a point of tell
another person off to indicate they are in charge.

When hand gestures are equal with thumbs upright with hands closer to the head
 it shows confidence and a determined balanced approach. 

Hand gestures tell a lot about where a person is focused as do their feet.
When directed outward it's a message to others. Touching yourself in a
hand gesture can either be a gesture of heartfelt sincerity
 or a tendency towards narcissism.

Finger pointing is often avoided or coached out of politicians, as the receiver
can feel as if they're being told off by a school teacher, which is a big turn off. 

Managing Stress

When Donald Trump was on the Apprentice he often leant forward in meetings
using steeple like hand gesture of confidence, taking up space to show his power.  

Nowadays in many meetings with world leaders at the White House or overseas,
Trump can be seen with his arms folded in a hug like contracted gesture
around his body.  Suggesting a need to protect himself, close off
from the situation and internally process his thoughts.  

Biden uses laughter, looking down or closing his eyes
 for a moment to block out what he doesn't want to hear,
see or experience when stressed. 

The eyebrow touch often denotes a moment of confusion or stress.

Touching this area helps reconnect and refocus.

Connection or Disconnected
When you become truly present ensuring your interactions are focused on being connected with yourself first. So you're clear how you're coming across and can adapt easily to increase rapport with others.  It's easier to relate in a way that engages others, so they want to interact, trusting you and feeling better for the experience.  

Then your communication creates a deeper connection to collaborate as a team, leaving a positive lasting impression on people you meet personally or in business. Creating a connection with others is about thinking of the big picture, of unity rather than just your own agenda.

An aspect of being able to connect well with yourself so you can self manage stress when others are relaying their message without reaction, to absorb what they're saying to competently respond is 'Listening' skills.  How someone shows their response to listening to others says a lot about their sense of power in the situation ie. 'I'm not threatened by you' or 'I'm threatened by you'.


Biden  has a furrowed brow, narrowed eyed of concern, stress exhibiting a lip press
 chin up show of anger or sadness or both when listening to Trump.

Trump show a macro-expression/micro-expression(under 5 seconds} 
of contempt showing superiority and scorn when listening to Biden.

Snapshots of Trump and Biden listening to each other

Neither party show the ability to remain composed to respond well when listening

Biden looks down instead of being present to Trump when he's speaking.
He shows disbelief signals, laughs, blinks,
points his finger or shrugs his shoulders.

Trump shows facial expressions of disbelief, contempt, superiority and 
distracts by moving himself and his hands around in extraverted hand gestures,
shrugs his shoulders, looks away and scowls.  


Biden connects with the audience using a leadership hand tunnel of focus whilst
looking straight down the camera lense, much like a preacher on a pulpit.

Getting on well with others and feeling comfortable to physically touch shows 
an ability to have a deep connection, collaborate as a team and be willing to share the spotlight. 

Biden and Harris show unity in their shared vision around the covid19 virus
by wearing masks at their rallies. 

There's nothing like a genuine smile that reaches the eyes to
build genuine connection and trust with other people.

Reaching out by pointing to someone in the audience is a great way to connect.
It's more effective when using a palm up gesture, rather than palm down,
 denoting power over or dominance of others. 

Trump and Pence use hand gestures to connect with others in an 'ok' signal.
Pence holds his hand 
higher than Trumps on his left side,
really wanting to get the message across. .

Pence stands on the emotional side of Trump's body showing their trust. 
The gap between them says they want to connect, but not too close!

This conclusion is based on the overall body language findings (not on policies etc).

Both parties show challenges and strengths in different areas of their leadership, communication, power, presence and ability to connect with themselves to self manage and connect well with others, based on their body language and non-verbal signals.  

Suzanne Masefield is the Founder of The Body Language Company at Think Success Ltd. a body mind analyst AIBMA (body language specialist), micro-expressions trainer, clinical hypnotherapist, counsellor, writer, speaker, trainer and executive coach. With more than 24 years’ experience as an empowerment facilitator, she inspires authentic leadership worldwide. 

Body Language Analyst for TVNZ,  7 Sharp, Breakfast TV, AM Show, The Cafe, TV3, Thrive, The Herald, Stuff and Yahoo. Working alongside mainstream media to report on key figures, and was TVNZ’s ‘go to’ analyst during the last three elections. Suzanne is a feature writer in several magazines and co-author of #No.1 best-selling books ‘Align, Expand, Succeed’, 101 Ways to Enhance Your Career’, 'Eddie Motion & the Tangible Magik'.

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