Voters have a tendency to prefer candidates with deeper voices, even for roles traditionally considered feminine, a recent Duke study found.
The findings, published in December 2012, built on a previous study to explore whether voters preferred deeper voices even if the candidate was running for a position generally associated with women, such as school board presidency. The data showed that both men and women prefer a deeper-voiced candidate to a higher-voiced one regardless of whether the position was traditionally masculine or feminine.
“Human voices have all of this information that they can contain and convey about the speaker beyond just the language they used,” said research associate Rindy Anderson, co-author of the study. “The lowest or fundamental frequency [of voices] is tightly tied to how we perceive a person’s voice.”
Participants in the study were asked to listen to 10 pairs of male voices and 10 pairs of female voices. In each case, the pair of voices came from the same source, but were manipulated to make one sound higher and one sound lower.
Casey Klofstad, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and co-author of the study, noted that the study aimed to determine whether there were situations where voters preferred a higher pitched voice or were indifferent.
The researchers had previously established that voters tend to prefer lower voices in general, so this time Anderson and Klofstad asked what voice a voter preferred if he or she were voting for positions more commonly held by women, as opposed to nationally elected offices, which are dominated by men.
“We wanted to know [if] we lose that preference for low pitch in roles that are typically held by women,” Anderson said.
The information collected by the study showed that men and women will still vote for lower-pitched voices even in “feminine” leadership positions. Women, however, did not have a preference when asked to choose between two male voices. They only preferred a lower voice when comparing two female voices.
Anderson explained that it is unknown whether these baseline preferences are biological or a result of societal conventions.
“When we are listening to voice pitch we are assessing some aspects of biology and also cultural norms,” Anderson said. “We want someone who is competent and strong and maybe aggressive. Words like ‘nice’ and ‘friendly’ cannot be in there. It could be that there is a little bit of gender bias going on.”
As a result of the 2012 election, Klofstad said that more research has been done to look into the effect of voice pitch on actual political races. Although it is preliminary and unpublished, their next study looked at races for open seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and found that a candidate might get more votes because of a lower voice, but voice does not necessarily determine whether the candidate wins or not.
“[A higher voice] does not help, but it does not determine elections,” Klofstad said. “As with height, weight and attractiveness, voice pitch is another trait we may cue in on when making a decision.”