Presidential debates show clear trends in necktie preferences since 1976

Red ties outnumber blue ties 13 to 5
Presidential debates show clear trends in necktie preferences since 1976

Published Oct. 01, 2012

Presidential debates are famous for their catch phrases and game changing moments, which is evident in 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 attention, 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, which is hosting the third presidential debate of 2012, 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.

Since the 2000 presidential debates, all of the candidates have consistently worn brighter ties, which were rarely seen during more conservative fashion eras. 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.

Lisa Dandeo, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.“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 of fashion management in Lynn's College of Business and Management. “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 when Mitt Romney and Barack Obama face off at the University of Denver on Oct. 3, Hofstra University on Oct. 16 and Lynn University on Oct. 22.