Presidential Debate: Lynn University Sees Clear Trends in Necktie Preferences

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Host school of the final presidential debate looks at necktie trends in presidential debates from 1976 through the present

It has become a fact that a necktie has a definite, political meaning and is an advertisement in itself.

Presidential debates are famous for their catch phrases and game changing moments, evidence Al Gore’s “lock box,” George H.W. Bush’s checking his watch and Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again.” Candidate neckties have received much less focus, even though they have been worn 42 times since the period of regular debates began in 1976. Since then, several clear trends have emerged, especially during the more recent red state vs. blue state era.

Lynn University of Boca Raton, Fla., which is hosting the third presidential debate of 2012 on Oct. 22, shows that red has become the necktie color of choice in recent years. In fact, since the Bush-Gore debates of 2000, red or predominantly red neckties have won out at the debates in something of a necktie landslide; red ties have outnumbered blue ties 13 to 5.

To be completely fair, not all of those red ties have been solid red. Some have been red with a slight pattern. And in 2008, both John McCain and Barack Obama wore red ties with white stripes: Obama in the second debate that year and McCain in the third.

“We all think of the political issues but who ever really considers what a politician's tie is saying about them? It has become a fact that a necktie has a definite, political meaning and is an advertisement in itself,” said Sarah McManus, fashion stylist, blogger, and owner of shopsarahmac.com. “Overall, whether it is a handshake, a smile, or the topics themselves, a tie is a very calculated statement.”

Since the 2000 presidential debates, all of the candidates have consistently worn brighter ties, which were rarely seen during more conservative fashion times. In 1980, for instance, both Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter wore black ties in their one and only presidential debate. Reagan sported a black tie with a slight pattern; Carter wore a black tie with light stripes.

Striped ties took the stage in a unanimous appearance at the second presidential debate of 1992, when candidates George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot all wore ties with stripes. In general, according to the Lynn University, striped ties and ties with patterns have yielded to more solid ties since the turn of the century in 2000.

“According to Mark Twain, if clothes make the candidate, then both candidates could very well be sending out some nonverbal cues for the debate in their tie selections,” said Lisa Dandeo, associate professor, fashion management at Lynn University. “The colors of red and blue are also thought by psychologists to improve brain performance and receptivity to advertising. Additionally, as red is the trend color to watch this debate season, it is also known to boost performance on detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval.”

Candidates with the most consistent choices in neckties include John Kerry in 2004, who wore red ties in all three presidential debates that year, and Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988, both of whom wore red ties in their two debates. George W. Bush wore red ties in all three presidential debates in 2000, but switched to a blue tie, a red tie and a blue tie with white checks in 2004. Checked ties have been relatively few and far between in the history of modern presidential debates.

The information provided by Lynn does not include necktie colors from the infamous 1960 presidential debates, which were viewed throughout America on black and white television sets. Presidential debates did not take place in 1964, 1968 or 1972, but they resumed in 1976 with three debates between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Five of six ties worn that year were red or mostly red. Carter wore a blue tie with a pattern for the first debate.

With so many necktie colors to choose from, it’s striking that so few ties of other colors have ever been worn. Consider the case of the lowly green tie: the only candidate in modern times to wear a green tie during a presidential debate was Bob Dole, who wore it during his second debate with Bill Clinton in 1996.

And despite its popularity among some inside-the-Beltway types, one style of tie, the bowtie, has yet to make its first appearance on a candidate at a presidential debate. Insiders are betting that streak will likely continue in 2012.

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Ivonne Snavely
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