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U.S. Presidential Candidates Can Win Voters Only If They Use The Right Tone

Some who work on campaigns cast doubt, however, on relying on such research to predict outcomes of races, especially for presidential contests where voters are more likely to more intensively scrutinize candidates.

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Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, before boarding Marine One helicopter, April 10, 2019. VOA

“When they go low, we go high,” former first lady Michelle Obama recited as her motto.

When it comes to electability, however, that could be bad advice — but not in the way that might be imagined.

Research into the voices of political candidates concludes how a contender speaks is critical — and lower pitch is better.

“Individuals with lower voices are more likely to win and to win a larger vote share,” says University of Miami Associate Professor Casey Klofstad. “What our experimental data show is that we like candidates with lower voices, largely because they are perceived as stronger and more confident and, to a lesser degree, because they’re perceived as older.”

This tonal bias may partly explain the under-representation of women in elected office. And with a record number of women vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. president, the research is receiving wider scrutiny.

Stanford Gregory, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent State University, studied the voice characteristics of the U.S. presidential general election contenders between 1960 and 2000, as well as analyzing the three debates in 2008 between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talk during the presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talk during the presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. VOA

Gregory noted a tendency for McCain to show dominance in the lower nonverbal frequencies of his voice while Obama finished the debates more strongly.

Gregory and his Kent State colleague Will Kalhoff observed a “recency effect,” in which potential voters take away more of an impression from the end of debates.

FILE - Young heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammed Ali, points to a sign he wrote on a chalk board in his dressing room before his fight against Archie Moore in Los Angeles, in this Nov. 15, 1962 file photo.
Young heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammed Ali, points to a sign he wrote on a chalk board in his dressing room before his fight against Archie Moore in Los Angeles, in this Nov. 15, 1962 file photo. VOA

Obama had a “rope-a-dope” debating style akin to the boxing techniques of heavyweight legend Muhammed Ali who would hang back from the start of a fight until his opponent exhausted himself and then dominate the end of the match, according to Gregory who concluded the victorious candidate is the one who sets the tone, so to speak.

“We found it was the person who changed the least in his lower frequencies compared to the other person, so in effect from the beginning, he would set the lower frequency tone and the other person would adapt to that in the course of debates,” says Gregory.

FILE - From left, 2016 Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
From left, 2016 Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. (VOA)

The effect also could be seen in the 2016 Republican primary where President Donald Trump, initially regarded as a longshot, overwhelmed as many as 10 candidates on the debate stage, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.

“It was just obvious this is what he did,” states Gregory.

As Vox news editor Libby Nelson, also an adjunct professor of public affairs at American University, wrote, looking back on Trump’s primary debates’ performance: Trump would “pick out one or two antagonists during any given debate — always some combination of Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz — to try to take down. The point wasn’t to get them to concede a policy point to him, but to establish that Trump was the one who should be allowed to talk.”

Some who work on campaigns cast doubt, however, on relying on such research to predict outcomes of races, especially for presidential contests where voters are more likely to more intensively scrutinize candidates.

“I’m skeptical as a practitioner of anytime someone comes and says, ‘We have isolated the thing that impacts the results of a campaign’— whether it’s yard signs, TV ads, money in politics or how someone talks,” says Matt Dole, who has worked on about 250 local and state campaigns of Republican candidates in Ohio.

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Dole tells VOA that voices “could have a role” in influencing voters, as might a candidate’s gender, facial characteristics, height, attire and other cosmetic features.

Gregory was asked who among the large field of 2020 Democratic hopefuls might best set the advantageous low tone during the party’s upcoming televised debates? (VOA)

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U.S. Pentagon Emits More Greenhouse Gases Than Portugal, Study Finds

The Pentagon, which oversees the U.S. military, released about 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide

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U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
FILE - The Pentagon building is seen in Washington. VOA

The United States creates more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions through its defense operations alone than industrialized countries such as Sweden and Portugal, researchers said Wednesday.

The Pentagon, which oversees the U.S. military, released about 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2017, according to the first study to compile such comprehensive data, published by Brown University.

The Pentagon’s emissions were “in any one year … greater than many smaller countries’ greenhouse gas emissions,” the study said.

If it were a country, its emissions would make it the world’s 55th-largest contributor, said Neta Crawford, the study’s author and a political scientist at Boston University.

U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
FILE – Air pollution hangs over the skyline as the sun rises over Beijing’s central business district, Jan. 14, 2013. VOA

“There is a lot of room here to reduce emissions,” Crawford said.

Request for comments to the Pentagon went unanswered.

Troop movements

Using and moving troops and weapons accounted for about 70% of its energy consumption, mostly due to the burning of jet and diesel fuel, Crawford said.

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It dwarfed yearly emissions by Sweden, which the international research project Global Carbon Atlas ranks 65th worldwide for its of CO2 emissions.

Pentagon emissions were higher than those of Portugal, ranked 57th by the Global Carbon Atlas, said Crawford.

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for climate change, followed by the United States.

The Pentagon called climate change “a national security issue” in a January report to Congress and has launched multiple initiatives to prepare for its impact.

U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
The United States creates more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Pixabay

Global temperatures are on course for an increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5.4-9.0 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, far overshooting a global target of limiting the increase to 2 C or less, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said in November.

Four degrees Celsius of warming would increase more than five times the influence of climate on conflict, according to a study published in Nature magazine on Wednesday.

Improvements

Crawford said the Pentagon had reduced its fuel consumption significantly since 2009, including by making its vehicles more efficient and moving to cleaner sources of energy at bases.

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It could reduce them further by cutting fuel-heavy missions to the Persian Gulf to protect access to oil, which were no longer a top priority as renewable energy gained ground, she said.

“Many missions could actually be rethought, and it would make the world safer,” she said. (VOA)