According to a report published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, voters may naturally prefer politicians who have deeper voices. Biologists from Duke University collaborated with a political scientist from the University of Miami to determine voter preferences regarding the pitch of a candidate’s voice.
The results show that voters of both genders gravitate towards candidates who have deeper voices. What makes this tendency even more interesting is that the researchers determined that the preference for deeper voices is due to biological factors, as opposed to political or philosophical ones.
The researchers noted that it has long been recognized that voters often size politicians up quickly without knowing anything about their stances on political issues. According to co-author Rindy Anderson, the current findings may help to explain this tendency. They may also provide insight into the dynamics of social interaction and help researchers begin to understand why women are still relatively scarce in the higher levels of government.
Anderson and her colleagues Susan Peters and Casey Klofstad recorded both men and women asking for votes. Then they modified the recordings by making a high-pitched and a low-pitched version of each one before playing them for participants. They discovered that both male and female participants were more willing to vote for the candidates whose voices were lower, regardless of the candidate’s gender.
Previous research had established that visual cues have a strong effect on the way a voter perceives a candidate. It is also well established that voice pitch is one of the cues people use to determine a candidate’s honesty, competency and strength. However, until now no one had investigated whether this held true regardless of the candidate’s gender.
In the next phase of the study, researchers played the modified recordings to male and female participants and asked them to pick which candidate projected the greatest strength, trustworthiness and competence. Participants of both genders thought female candidates with lower-pitched voices appeared to demonstrate all three qualities. However, women did not perceive the male candidates with lower-pitched voices as stronger or more competent than the male candidates with higher-pitched voices. The researchers speculated that the women might have based their assessments on other factors besides voice pitch.
Anderson cautions that the team’s findings may not be applicable outside the laboratory. The findings do suggest that voice pitch makes a difference in elections. They also give researchers clues about the factors behind gender bias in the political arena. However, more research is needed to determine what effect, if any, that the preference for lower voices may have in real political races. “We need to be very careful about interpreting these results in a broader context,” Anderson said.
The scientists say that the scope of this study was very narrow, and at this point, suggestions that real voters base their votes partially on voice pitch are merely conjecture. The next step, they say, is to take a careful look at the role voice pitch plays in the 2012 elections.