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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.

Also Read: Only A Strong Leader Can Control The Mobocracy

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)

Next Story

Student Project into Space, NASA Comes Up With Chicago Planetarium

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

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Earth
“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases, Pixabay

 

College student Fatima Guerra, 19, will be the first to admit, she’s into some really nerdy stuff.

“Like, up there nerdy.”

“Way up there nerdy,” she says. “All the way up into space.”

Guerra is an astronomer in training, involved since a high school internship with a small project at the Adler Planetarium, with big goals.

“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases,” she told VOA from the laboratory at the Adler where she often works.

FILE - Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago.
Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago. VOA

Coding ThinSat

Data that sheds light on those circumstances is gathered by a small electronic device called “ThinSat” designed to orbit the Earth. It is developed not by high-paid engineers and software programmers, but by Chicago-area students like Guerra.

“We focused on coding the different parts of the sensors that the ThinSat is composed of. So, we coded so that it can measure light intensity, pressure.”

“This stuff is very nerdy,” Jesus Garcia admits with a chuckle.

“What we hope to accomplish is look at Earth from space as if it was the very first exoplanet that we have. So, imagine that we are looking at the very first images from a very distant planet.”

As a systems engineer, Garcia oversees the work of the students developing ThinSat for the Adler’s Far Horizon’s Project, which he outlines “bring all types of students, volunteers and our staff to develop projects, engineering projects, that allow us to answer scientific questions.”

Garcia says the students he works with on the project cross national, racial and cultural divides to work toward a common goal.

“Here at the Adler, we have students who are minorities who have been faced with challenges of not having opportunities presented to them,” he said. “And here we are presenting a mission where they are collaborating with us scientists and engineers on our first mission that is going into space.”

Rocket carries project into space

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

On board was ThinSat, the culmination of work by many at the Adler, including Guerra, who joined the Far Horizons team as a high school requirement that ended up becoming much more.

“A requirement can become a life-changing opportunity, and you don’t even know it,” she told VOA. “It’s really exciting to see, or to know, especially, that my work is going to go up into space and help in the scientific world.”

Daughter of immigrants

It is also exciting for her parents, immigrants from Guatemala, who can boast that their daughter is one of the few who can claim to have built a satellite orbiting the Earth.

“I told them it might become a worldwide type of news, and I’m going to be a part of it. And they were really proud. And they were calling my family over there and saying, ‘She might be on TV.’ And it’s something they really feel a part of me about,” Guerra said.

Also Read: ‘Big Steps To Reduce Carbon Emission’ Apple Expects Cooperation With China on Clean Energy

Long after the data compiled by ThinSat is complete, Guerro will still have a place in history as a member of a team that put the first satellite developed by a private planetarium into space.

She says her friends don’t think that’s nerdy at all.

“It’s cool, because it’s interesting to see that something so nerdy is actually going to work, and is going to go up into something so important,” she said. (VOA)