The Presidential Debate Decorder

PHOTO: President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney take part in the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla.
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President Obama out-zingered Mitt Romney in their final presidential debate by 3 to 1, according to communications analysis firm Quantified Impressions.

Obama deployed what researchers described as "pointed, purposeful, aggressive commentary" for a total of 240 seconds to Romney's 80 seconds throughout the foreign policy debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., Monday night.

"We were looking at pointed and purposeful aggressive commentary," Briar Goldberg, the Austin, Texas-based firm's lead presentation reviewer, said. "Commentary from either candidate was technically meant to be a sound bite the next morning. Obama spent more time doing that."

(Click HERE for the full debate transcript)

Using a methodology developed at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Quantified Impressions' analysts measured the candidate's performance on this and 27 other metrics of effective communication.

From the pace of speech, to the degree of complexity, analysts said that by the end of the series of three debates, both candidates had reached a peak in their communication skills.

"Both of the candidates, their scores were so high that they were both effectively communicating with their audience," Quantified Impressions president Noah Zandan said. "It's really a measurement of style as much as content because people are going to hear the content that they want to hear."

With the Obama and Romney seated at a table and not standing as they had been in previous debates, the foreign policy forum featured fewer moments of aggressive confrontation between the candidates.

But some of the more memorable moments came when the candidates directed their comments to each other. Obama berated Romney for repeating the assertion that Obama had embarked on an international "apology tour" at the beginning of his presidency, calling it the campaign's "biggest whopper."

(Click HERE for ABC News' fact check of the debate.)

And chiding Romney for arguing that the Navy is weaker than it was in 1916, Obama said that the military also has fewer "horses and bayonets" than it did at that time.

Such references to "bayonets and horses" and "whoppers" became instant Internet fodder. And they contrasted sharply with Romney's conciliatory tone at times during the debate.

"Attacking me is not an agenda," Romney told Obama at one point on Monday night in Florida.

Facial-expression expert Chris Kowal of Purdue University, who used a computer program to scrutinize Obama and Romney's underlying emotions throughout the debate, said Obama's expressions clearly displayed pride when he deployed both zingers.

"When he made the 'whopper' remark, he had two seemingly competing emotions: happiness and sadness. There was a mixed emotion of frustration in with pride," Kowal said. "Then, when he said the 'horses and bayonets' he had a look of pleasure. There was definitely a lot of pride."

Kowal's analysis scrutinizes the more than 400 micro-muscles in the face that reveal the underlying emotions that are expressed as the candidates speak. Emotions such as sadness, fear, pride, frustration and happiness are reflected on a person's face whether they are apparent in their words.

"Those micro-expressions are going to be the true expression of how a candidate feels at that moment," Kowal said. "They are expressing their true emotions. Typically, they are very, very hard to control."

After Obama's initial performance in the first debate, which was widely panned by his supporters and critics, the adjustments that he made to his delivery were evident, Quantified Impressions analysts found.

Obama's comments clocked in at 9.4 on the Flesch-Kinkaid readability test, which measures the ease with which readers understand what they read or hear.

"Being above a nine really makes someone sound professorial," Quantified Impressions president Zandan said, adding that audiences his firm has tested are most comfortable understanding a 6.5 level.

By the second debate, Obama had moderated his Flesch-Kinkaid level to 7.2 and, finally, to 8.6 in the third debate. Romney's final speech was rated a 7.0 on that scale and an average of 6.9 across the three debates.

"Obama has dramatically changed the speaking level of his words between the debates," Zandan said.

When it comes to the candidates' emotional expression, Purdue's Kowal said both candidates have displayed differing levels of comfort across the debates.

Faced with a foreign policy subject matter, Obama displayed a level of comfort he lacked in the first two debates, and Romney displayed more comfort on the subject of the economy, Kowal said.

Despite the differences in the way the candidates communicate (Romney speaks more quickly than Obama, but uses words that are easier to understand), by nearly every measure Obama and Romney are considered to be among the best in terms of their communication skills, Zandan said.

"The interesting thing is that the two candidates are really at this point at the top of their game and are extremely effective communicators," Zandan said. "Both of these guys are actually exceeding the benchmarks that the best have set."

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