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A Candidate's Voice May Affect How We Vote

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. (AP Photo/Gary Hershorn, Pool)
A Candidate's Voice May Affect How We Vote
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Experience and money for campaigning increase a politician's chances of winning an election.

But so may the sound of a candidate’s voice.

Not only what a candidate says, but how it sounds when he or she says something. Two recent studies examined the effect of voice pitch -- its highness or lowness. The studies suggest that candidates with lower voices have better chances when it comes to seeking political office.

Take the 2008 presidential election, for example, between then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain.

Mr. McCain is a war hero. He had served in the U.S. Senate for more than twenty years when he ran against Mr. Obama for president.

At that point, Mr. Obama had represented the state of Illinois in Congress for less than four years.

In this presidential debate, they offered their vision of the future.

First, Senator McCain.

"I have the ability and the knowledge and the background to make the right judgments to keep this country safe and secure ... these are major challenges to the United States of America. I don't think I need any on-the-job training."

Now, Senator Obama.

"We are going to invest in issues like education, we are going to invest in issues that relate to how ordinary people are able to live out their dreams. And that is something I am going to be committed to as President of the United States."

Mr. Obama, the less experienced, went on to become president. One reason may have to do with the pitch of his voice, says Casey Klofstad. He teaches political science at the University of Miami in Florida.

Professor Klofstad is not saying that Mr. Obama won only because he has a lower voice than McCain's. But in a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, he and other researchers suggest that voice pitch might have been an unconscious factor.

The team asked 800 volunteers to listen to voices of non-politicians. The voices were changed by computer to sound higher or lower. The volunteers reportedly preferred the deeper pitch. They linked it with strength, competence and honesty.

Casey Klofstad also noted that the volunteers, in general, preferred candidates around 40 to 50 years old. At that point, he says, peoples' voices are at their deepest.

"We are like other animals influenced by very subtle cues, non-verbal audio clues that are biologically determined. And what we are trying to show in this research is that these subtle-linked influences do have an impact on our decision-making and how we select our leaders."

Earlier work by Professor Klofstad and his co-researchers found that candidates with deeper voices earned more votes.

In the latest study, none of the voices belonged to candidates.

If you had to choose a person to vote for based on their voice, which one would you choose?

VOICE #1: "I urge you to vote for me this November."
VOICE #2 "I urge you to vote for me this November."

If unconscious bias toward voice pitch is a factor in an election, some candidates might want to consider voice coaching to lower their tone.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Jessica Berman reported this story from Washington. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

pitch n. the highness or lowness of a sound

unconscious adj. not intended or planned : not consciously done

prefer v. to like (someone or something) better than someone or something else

competence ­n. the ability to do something well

subtle adj. hard to notice or see : not obvious

cue n. a sign that tells a person to do something

bias n. a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others that usually results in treating some people unfairly