How Presidential Candidates Use Their Voice As A Campaign Tool

It's not necessarily what he says, but how he says it. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

If you’re wondering how Donald Trump managed to secure enough delegates to win the Republican nomination for the upcoming presidential elections, you may be interested to hear that, according to a recent study, it might be partially down to a particular characteristic of his – and no, it’s not the length of his fingers.

The stuff that comes out of the lip-eyed businessman’s mouth may not always sound particularly intelligent, but it does, according to the study, sound like the voice of a winner. In other words, the content of his verbal leakages could be just part of the reason for his popularity, with the tone of his voice doing the rest of the work.

And it’s not just Trump who uses his voice to subliminally influence voters. Presenting their research at the 171st meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Salt Lake City, the team behind this study analyzed the ways in which several presidential candidates alter the pitch of their voice depending on who they are addressing. Despite the fact that the politicians under investigation represent vastly contrasting ideologies and philosophies, they all appear to use their voices in remarkably similar ways.

Studying the pitch employed by Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Carly Fiorina in a range of different contexts, the researchers discovered that, when addressing other candidates in one-on-one debates, all presidential hopefuls shifted their voice down to their lowest sound frequencies. According to study co-author Rosario Signorello, similar tactics are seen in the animal kingdom, with lower voice frequencies often reflecting strength and dominance in many species of mammal – like a kind of vocal wrestling.

This finding also resonates with the results of a separate study conducted last year, in which voters rated political figures with deeper voices as stronger and more competent than those with higher voices. The authors of that particular study suggest that, because deep voices are associated with higher levels of testosterone, politicians with bass voices are subconsciously perceived as more potent.

Deeper voices are often perceived as stronger and more competent. Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Interestingly, however, participants in this prior study also rated males with deep voices as appearing over-aggressive when going up against high-pitched female candidates, which could be particularly relevant in the upcoming electoral campaign should Hillary win the Democratic nomination.

Returning to the new study, the researchers found that, when addressing large masses of voters at rallies, all four candidates employed a much wider range of voice frequencies – a vocal trait that, according to Signorello, is often perceived as charismatic.

Finally, when appearing on televised talk shows, all four politicians engaged in what the researchers describe as a “healthy” pitch, resembling the relaxed tone that regular people use when talking to their friends.

Commenting on these findings, Signorello explained that “persuasive goals change when you address a different audience, and this change is reflected in voice acoustics.” As such, political candidates adopt the appropriate “vocal profile” depending on who they are talking to and in what context.

So, as outrageous as some of Trump’s comments may seem, he’s actually been toning it down throughout his campaign – literally.

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