Britain's Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, famously undertook coaching lessons to help deepen her voice, for fear that her shrill tones would not be taken seriously in the world of 1980s British politics. Turns out she may have been on to something. A new study claims that voters prefer political candidates with deeper voices, as they appeal to our "caveman instincts."
The study, published today in the open access journal PLOS ONE, found that deeper voiced candidates gathered 60 to 76 percent of the votes when compared to their counterparts with higher voices. Scientists also found that voters preferred candidates in their 40s and 50s, the period in the life cycle when male and female voices reach their deepest pitch.
It's not clear whether the voices of men and women were compared in the same group side-by-side, or if the genders were compared separately.
Casey Klofstad, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami and co-author of the study, says the findings may be linked to a time in human history when good leadership was associated with physical power and brute force, which may have been indicated by a deeper voice. Higher levels of testosterone—which can lead to more aggressive behaviour—have previously been linked to lower-pitched voices among men but not women.
On the question of whether the findings have any impact on the role of women in politics, Klofstad emphasises that they are not definitive but do indicate a potential political bias which should be accounted for. "We're not attempting to explain gender inequality and leadership abilities but, at the very least, it is a biological characteristic that does not countermand patriarchal norms," he says. "The thing that we're trying to point out is that we are not so separate from the rest of the animal kingdom as we might think and we are affected by subtle non-verbal vocal cues just as a bird would be."
The study, conducted by Duke University and University of Miami researchers, consisted of two parts. Firstly, 800 participants were surveyed about their voting preferences for hypothetical candidates, and were only provided with information about their age and gender. The authors found that candidates in their 40s and 50s were the preferred choice.
Secondly, participants were played recordings of a candidate, who urged the participants to lend them their support. The pitch of the voice was altered up and down, and voters were asked who they would prefer out of two hypothetical candidates. The deeper-voiced candidate received 60 to 76 percent of the vote. The authors also calculated the mean voice pitch of candidates in the 2012 U.S. House of Representatives elections, and found that the huskier politicians were more likely to win.
While he wouldn't be drawn into a discussion of current president Barack Obama's lilting tones, Klofstad suggested that the distinctive northeastern accent of the current Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, could ultimately have a negative impact on his campaign. "I think Donald Trump has a very unique accent that may not play to the entire country. Whether that will be decisive is yet to be seen," he says.
In light of this latest research, Newsweek takes a sideways look at some recent battles of political voices:
David Cameron and Ed Miliband
The current U.K. Prime Minister does not have a husky voice by any stretch of the imagination. However, Cameron's Eton-refined projection doesn't seem to have done him any harm, as he trounced Labour rival Ed Miliband to win a Conservative majority in May's General Election. Miliband was rumoured to have adopted a more common 'mockney' tone and peppered his speech with glottal stops during an interview with British comedian Russell Brand in an apparent bid to appear more in touch with the man on the street. ltimately, he was unsuccessful.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
Labour's two former Prime Ministers both had distinctive tones but for somewhat different reasons. Blair was renowned for being a vocal chameleon, slipping effortlessly between his public schoolboy background into estuary English, notably when ordering an ice cream for his former Chancellor in a famous photo-op. Brown's low Scottish growl was enough to see him replace Blair when he stepped down in 2007, but he only had three years to exercise it before being replaced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney
The current President of the United States is so smooth that an entire YouTube channel, Barackdubs, has been set up to engineer his voice over popular music tracks. His Republican opponent also had his verbal quirks, described as "Mittisms" by friends, but they were not enough to upstage Obama.Try Newsweek: Subscription offers