Might the pitch of Hillary’s voice cost her the White House? According to a new study, it might.
Researchers at the University of Miami and Duke University found that it’s not just what politicians say but how they say it that gets more votes. Specifically, voters naturally seem to prefer candidates with deeper voices, which they associate with strength and competence.
The researchers say our preference for leaders with lower-pitched voices—an anatomically and physiologically determined characteristic—is a reflection of residual “caveman instincts.”
“Modern-day political leadership is more about competing ideologies than brute force,” said Casey Klofstad, an associate professor of political science at Miami and co-author of the study. “But at some earlier time in human history it probably paid off to have a literally strong leader.”
As part of the study, published online in PLOS One, 400 men and 400 women were assigned randomly to vote in one of 90 different mock elections between two hypothetical candidates. The candidates ranged in age from 30 to 70, but those in their 40s and 50s were most likely to win.
These findings are consistent with the idea that voters prefer leaders who are neither too young and inexperienced, nor too old and less capable of active leadership.
“It also happens to be the time in life when people’s voices reach their lowest pitch,” said Klofstad.
The researchers then asked 400 men and 403 women to listen to five pairs of recorded voices saying, “I urge you to vote for me this November.” The researchers electronically modified the recordings to create a low-pitched version and a high-pitched version.
After listening to each pair, listeners were asked which voice seemed stronger, more competent and older, and who they would vote for if the two voices were running against each other in an election. The men and women with the deeper voices won between 60 and 76 percent of the votes.
Next, researchers plan to see if politicians’ voice pitch data correlates with objective measures of leadership ability, such as years in office or number of bills passed.
“If it turns out that people with lower voices are actually poorer leaders, then it’s bad that voters are cuing into this signal if it’s not actually a reliable indicator of leadership ability,” said Klofstad.