Deeper Voiced Politicians Win More Elections

New research on voice pitch and voting reveals that our political decision making isn’t as deep as we might hope.

The Donald unleashes another sonic boom from his ‘mouth’ Gage Skidmore/Flickr

We like to think we vote for our preferred political candidates because we share their vision, or at least because they’re the least rotten apple in a barrel of apples so putrid they wouldn’t think twice about appointing an alt-right Jonagold to the transition team of a rancid Cox’s Orange Pippin.

But science has revealed that we’re less discerning than we would like to think. Research I was involved with almost ten years ago showed that we can predict the results of democratic elections based on the facial appearance of party leaders. And those of you who are long-time listeners to my podcast will have heard my 2015 interview with political scientist Casey Klofstad, in which we discussed Casey’s research on voice pitch and elect-ability.

Casey had found that deepening a person’s voice using computer software makes that person seem stronger and more competent — valued traits in a political leader.

However, new research by Irena Pavela Banai and her colleagues from the University of Zadar in Croatia, takes this research one step further.

The scientists wanted to know if this lab-based preference of hypothetical voters for hypothetical candidates with deeper voices translated into real world behavior. Do deeper voiced politicians really win more elections?

Digging deep on YouTube

First, Pavela Banai made a list of all the presidential elections held across the world between 2006 and 2016. She excluded elections in which the president was elected by parliament (e.g. Greece) and those that featured female candidates, since there were so few that analysis would have been difficult.

Next, she searched YouTube for videos of each of the candidates speaking. She collected voice samples for 51 pairs of presidential candidates representing 50 countries.

The researchers discovered that candidates with deeper voices were more likely to win their elections. Furthermore, winners who received a larger share of the popular vote tended to have deeper voices than winners whose victory was narrower.

What these results cannot tell us is whether these candidates won their elections because of their deep voices. Perhaps deep voiced candidates look different to candidates with high voices (deep voices are associated with larger bodies), or they may use language that matches their manly voices and makes them come across as a stronger leader.

Also, given that Pavela Banai only tested videos of men, her research cannot explain the outcome of the recent US presidential election, in which a woman, Hillary Clinton, faced off against Donald Trump, a shaved orangutan.

More research is needed if we are ever to understand primate politics in all its myriad forms.

President-elect Louie. Walt Disney Productions

Pavela Banai, I., Banai, B., & Bovan, K. (in press). Vocal characteristics of presidential candidates can predict the outcome of actual elections Evolution and Human Behavior. View summary

For an audio version of this story, see the 22 November 2016 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

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