Body Language Expert Breaks Down Mike Pence's Performance At The VP Debate

Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris' debate on Oct. 7, 2020, was arguably more civil than the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in September 2020 — but that's not saying much. There was still plenty of tension between the two vice-presidential candidates, from Pence's interrupting and going over the allotted time to Harris shaking her head at some of Pence's statements. But what can viewers take away from the candidates' body language, in addition to their words?

According to body language expert Lauren Cohen, the answer is a whole lot! The executive and relationship coach analyzed Pence's performance during the debate, and she has some great insights about what messages the vice president was sending subconsciously through his actions.

"From the opening of tonight's debate, VP Pence wanted to communicate concern, authority, and empathy and came in on the defensive," Cohen exclusively told Nicki Swift. "VP Pence used body language that was very controlled. As a former political performer with a radio talk show, he wanted words and nonverbal cues to make an aggressive and emotional case. Mike Pence displayed and portrayed confidence, respect, and authority."

Here's what else viewers can take away from Pence's body language at the vice presidential debate.

Why Mike Pence isn't big on gesturing

Another notable point of interest? Vice President Mike Pence's lack of gestures. "Overall, Pence was constrained with his arms and hands mostly contained and kept close to his torso. He did not use many highly demonstrative gestures. Again, in keeping with how he typically is," body language expert Lauren Cohen told Nicki Swift. "From when he walked in he tried to show eye contact and engagement with Senator Harris, Susan Page, and the audience. His body language showed respect and good manners despite the fact that he went over on time on questions."

Viewers of the debate might disagree that Pence showed respect toward California Sen. Kamala Harris or moderator Susan Page. Pence frequently went over time, despite Page trying to move on by thanking him for his remarks. But as Cohen argues, Pence's body language was still respectful toward the two women.

"From a nonverbal point of view, he was very respectful even though it was quite clear how much he disagreed with almost everything his opponent said," Cohen tells Nicki Swift. "He made eye contact with Susan Page and Kamala and was clearly making an effort to say hello and show he was listening to the rules."

Here's how Mike Pence expresses disagreement

When California Sen. Kamala Harris made points that Vice President Mike Pence didn't agree upon, he didn't roll his eyes or do anything too extreme. But Pence still had a few body language tics to show his disagreement with Harris' points. "VP Pence had lips pulled inwards very frequently when he disagreed with Senator Harris. Disappearing lips often happen when someone hears something they disagree with or dislike," body language expert Lauren Cohen explains to Nicki Swift. "In some ways, it is the body's way of holding back on what one is thinking and wanting to say. We saw a lot of tight lips showing his disagreement with what Senator Harris was saying."

In addition to the pursed lips, Pence also shook his head to show his disagreement with Harris' points. "VP Pence shook his head when he disagreed but not at all in a dramatic or overly pronounced way," Cohen says. "It was evident to the viewers how he felt, but it was not particularly distracting, and nothing appeared rude."

Not appearing rude should be the last thing to ask for when it comes to political debates, but considering how things went last time, it's unfortunately worth mentioning.

Eye contact is key for Mike Pence

Body language expert Lauren Cohen also notes that Vice President Mike Pence "uses eye movement and smile to communicate caring." And although Pence didn't make any exaggerated gestures with his arms, he used them to make subtle points. "He used some open arm movements to try to imply he is authentic, but he also had palms down a lot when he wanted to make points that were nonnegotiable and not up for discussion," Cohen explains to Nicki Swift. "When he disagreed with Kamala Harris, he sometimes had his hands moving in a way to say 'No. This is not right and here is how it is and needs to be.'"

Pence's focus on eye contact showed viewers that he was listening to what California Sen. Kamala Harris had to say, even when he disagreed with her message. "He looks like he is actually trying to show that he is listening when in fact he just cannot wait to answer and restate or correct what he disagrees with," Cohen says. Pence stayed remarkably still during the entire debate, not even flinching when a fly landed in his hair. "VP Pence did not do what many candidates do, such [as] fixing their microphone, drinking water, adjusting clothing, and looking away or downward in an effort to undermine the other speaker," Cohen shares.

Apparently, and it appears low-key disagreeing and staying collected is the name of Pence's debate game.