Winners and losers: Emotional shifts across elections are conveyed by a politician’s smile


The human smile can convey both rewarding and affiliative social intent and thus has significant utility in politics, where the ability to bond with and reassure voters is vital to electoral success. We examine experimental evidence from the 2019 UK general election to investigate the influence of a politician’s reward or affiliative smile on voter emotions. It was hypothesised that the winner’s affiliative smile would engender positive affect across all partisan groups compared to the winner’s reward smile display. Participants from a nationally representative sample were shown campaign footage containing both types of smiles from the leaders of the main competing political parties both before and after the election. Increases in happiness and affinity were revealed across all partisan groups when shown footage of the eventual winner’s affiliative smile; at the same time, supporters of losing parties indicated a decrease in negative affect. Affinity has been shown to increase civic engagement. Thus, we conclude that affiliative smiles displayed by leading candidates during the campaign likely acted as a mechanism to align voter behaviour with the dominant political message.


© 2024 Senior et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. cc-by



Senior, C., Stewart, P.A., Bucy, E., & Lee, N.. 2024. Winners and losers: Emotional shifts across elections are conveyed by a politician’s smile. PLoS ONE, 19(4 April).