Jan. 5, 2012
BOSTON — We hear their voices over and over again in debates and stump speeches, on TV and the radio. What the presidential candidates sound like is no small matter, said Greg Goodale, a professor of communication studies at Northeastern University. In fact, the best talker often wins the race.
Among other traits, the voice can convey authenticity — or lack thereof. "Candidates have to be careful about changing their tone, Goodale said. "Hilary Clinton in 2008 was caught on it: She went down to the South and took on a Southern cadence and immediately the press jumped on her." It came across as disingenuous.
Sometimes the tone reflects not geography but emotion. When Romney loses his cool, you can hear it in his voice, which gets faster, higher-pitched and louder.
His control has improved, though. Goodale felt certain that Romney's consulted with speech coaches on cadence, pronunciation and rounding his vowels to sound less stiff.
The result reminded Goodale of one fictional character who had a memorable way of talking.
"Sometimes Mitt Romney even sounds a little like the Fonz," Goodale said. "Which is probably a good persona — seriously, a good persona for him because he has a reputation for being a little dorky. The Fonz had a kind of coolness about him in the 1970s."
We'll see if that coolness wins votes.
Goodale's notes on other candidates…
Suddenly people are listening. Will Santorum change his tone? Goodale doesn't think so:
"He has been a very consistent candidate throughout his career." He may, however, change the topical emphasis in his speeches from family to economics as he moves from Iowa to secular New Hampshire.
Moderate for a time, Gingrich is growing angry again. "I think we're going to continue to see him do that," Goodale said. "I think he understands he's got no shot at the presidency anymore and so he's got nothing to lose. Mitt Romney is going to be in for a very difficult evening Saturday night and Sunday morning when he does the two debates."
Is he too low-key to get attention? Not necessarily, Goodale said: "He's got an interesting sense of humor and that may serve him well particularly in a state like NH where they're looking for sincerity."
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