How we analyzed emotions of Swiss politicians

Originally published in Bazler Zeitung (in German) on December 5, 2018. For videos and diagrams please visit the original source.

Suddenly Leuthard’s happiness jumped to 82.5

Which Federal Councillors seem happy or angry in office? We have analyzed the emotional state of 800 speeches with special software.

Doris Leuthard nonchalantly sweeps the board members’ objections off the desks: “This is funny now,” she says in the debate on a change in the hunting law during the summer session. The Federal Council wants to give the cantons more freedom to settle the individual cases. “And you want federal regulation.»

We do not know whether Doris Leuthard was happy that she was able to counter the cantonal representatives so gallantly. The wide laughter, the mischievously narrowed eyes, the wrinkles next to them, the dimples in her cheeks – all of this, makes her a top-score contender in the joy category in our video analysis. 

Doris Leuthard during the discussion on the hunting law in the Council of States (5 June 2018, video: Parliamentary services)

How do the members of the Federal Council act during their appearances? We tried to find that out via a computer-aided analysis. For this purpose, we have downloaded, edited and categorised videos of 805 speeches given by Federal Councillors in this year before the National Council and the State Council; from 72 to 274 appearances per person. 

The particularly moving speeches are deliberately not taken into account. The videos were then analyzed by Neurodata Lab, a young company specializing in emotional analysis of video and audio recordings.

A not quite trivial task, as it soon turned out. After all, major outbursts of emotion are rare in the Swiss parliament, which is always keen on balance. The waves are not nearly as high as in the UK’s House of Commons, where they’re fine with intense fighting, cheering and booing. Or as in Sri Lanka, Uganda, Hungary or Turkey, where the parliamentarians sometimes literally flex their muscles. Nevertheless, the Bundesrat’s emotional analysis can show how different the seven Federal Councilors are. Or at least: how different their performances are perceived by a machine.

Neurodata Lab has analyzed how strongly the emotions were expressed in each speech. Simonetta Sommaruga and Ueli Maurer achieved top neutrality figures; Sommaruga’s party colleague Alain Berset, on the other hand, is far behind at the last place. The algorithm recognizes a lot of sadness in him. Guy Parmelin is the most annoyed and Ignazio Cassis is hesitant. Doris Leuthard, on the other hand, lives up to her reputation as an ever-smiling woman whose emotions are high in the categories of joy and surprise. Now and then Johann N. Schneider-Ammann expressed surprise as well.

Dosed anger, surprising surprise

March 13th is not a day for fun: Guy Parmelin’s rage level rises three times to record levels. After Maximilian Reimann demanded a deficit guarantee for the planned Olympic Games 2026 in Sion should be subject to a referendum and could not resist a side blow on the fighter jet procurement, the defence minister goes offensive: “That’s not the same at all”, he rumbles. But then he calms down again quickly.

Guy Parmelin on deficit guarantee for Sion 2026 in the National Council (13 March 2018, video: Parliamentary services)

As a rule, Swiss politics is not too surprising. The results in the corresponding category are low. Only Doris Leuthard likes to look as if something very special had happened. Why? It is often unclear. For example, in her defence speech for Swiss Post at the beginning of March: Is she laughing about what she says, namely that Swiss Post does not cut its services, but rather expands them? Did the parliamentarian in the room, whom she insistently pinned during these sentences, suddenly was fooling around?

Doris Leuthard on the Post Office Network in the National Council (3 January 2018, video: Parliamentary Services)

A few days later, in the same session Ignazio Cassis is visibly uncomfortable. He swallows, lowers his gaze to the lectern, rubs his nose briefly. He uses the same sentence several times, spits it with “ehs” and “ohms”. For this ызууср, the youngest member of the Federal Council receives very high scores in fear. Was it due to his inexperience? Was he unwell for some other reason? Or was it because he spoke in High German instead of Italian – on a politically sensitive question in the Middle East conflict? Finally Cassis saves himself by sticking to the script.  

Ignazio Cassis on the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the National Council (5 June 2018, video: Parliamentary services)

Speaking of nervousness: Almost everyone who has to appear before the council is likely to have heart flutter. But not our federal councillors. Neurodata Lab used a completely new algorithm to determine the heart rate of federal councillors in the videos. Ueli Maurer had the highest pulse on average with between 70 and 80 beats per minute. Ignazio Cassis, on the other hand, seems to be more relaxed than we thought above. Or, of course, he has a top athlete’s pulse. Averagely, his heart beats just a little over 50 times per minute while he stands at the lectern.

Johann N. Schneider-Ammann on the WTO in the National Council (24 September 2018, video: parliamentary services)

Johann N. Schneider-Ammann. He’s hard for the algorithm to grasp. This is hardly surprising, because he is obviously not the man of emotions and theatre drama. His scores suit him: well-mediated. But he scores a lot in one category: Together with Doris Leuthard, he achieves top results in joy. This caused headaches for the programmers in the Russian analysis laboratory. There is a small problem with the algorithm, they said, which will soon be solved with three-dimensional head models: Johann N. Schneider-Ammann usually looks at the template on the lectern and pinches his eyes together when speaking. From the perspective of the permanently installed camera, it looks as if he is smiling. 

Maybe we simply misunderstood Schneider-Ammann over the years.