Romney: 'Dork factor' at play?
Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney speaks at Otterbein University in April.
May 8th, 2012
02:15 PM ET

Romney: 'Dork factor' at play?

With the new backing of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney now has the support of nearly all of his former Republican opponents. But the presumptive presidential nominee still faces a disconcerting divide with voters: They just don’t find him that likable.  A new USA TODAY/Gallup poll released Monday found that just 31% of voters found him likable, compared to 58% for President Obama.

So what's the problem? Romney is smart, successful, polite and even handsome.

The answer may be hiding in plain sight. From the offhand comments muttered in homes and happy hours, to the repeat jokes on late-night comedy sketches, it seems some in America are asking if Mitt Romney is just too much of a dork.

“He was really awkward,” Otterbein University student Carissa Reed said of her experience sitting on stage with the former Massachusetts governor two weeks ago. “You could tell he was out of his element. … I was just, like, 'Should I clap?’ None of us knew what to do.”

Reed was witness to what may have been Romney’s most awkward speech of the year, with the least crowd response. During much of the 40-minute Otterbein address, students from various universities, who were on stage with the candidate, openly yawned, looked at their watches, sent texts or e-mails and in at least one case, appeared to fall asleep.

Romney, in a somewhat self-deprecating way, began the speech by pointing to problems on stage. The students were sitting behind him, facing his back. The blackboard he wanted wasn’t there. His voice trailed off as he spoke of the issues. In the body of his speech, the candidate made some significant philosophical points but drove few ideas home with impact.

He was not connecting.

The Romney campaign did not respond to CNN’s questions about the Otterbein speech and the idea that its candidate may be awkward, or dorky, in public.

“I got the impression that he’s someone smart, but who’s genuinely uncomfortable in front of a crowd,” said Otterbein political science professor Allan Cooper. “You actually see him standing up there … trying so hard to connect with these young people and failing so miserably at it.”

Cooper, who advises both the college Democrats and the college Republicans on campus, insists he is not partisan. He believes that Romney’s inability to connect is a significant issue and that it lost the support of all the swing voters in his class who saw him speak.

At the University of Virginia, political scientist Geoffrey Skelling says it is a combination of speaking style and the ability (or inability) to relate to people.

“I do think the average voter looks at Romney and sees someone who really doesn’t have much personal knowledge of the Main Street situation,” he said. “If you watch video clips of Romney at events … if he’s uncomfortable, people can tell. Versus if Obama is uncomfortable, you’d never know.”

But there is an alternate view.

“Women love a dork! Are you kidding me?” asked Romney supporter Elizabeth Blackney.

The Portsmouth, Virginia, mother knew about the Otterbein speech and saw Romney speak in her hometown over a week later.

“He definitely connected here,” she said. “It was very different.”

Her theory? That in Virginia, in front of an outdoor crowd of supporters, Romney was less hesitant about being himself - about being a bit of a dork, which Blackney says he needs to do more often.

“I think he just needs to give himself permission to be that guy, ” she told CNN Radio.

Right now, Blackney believes Romney isn’t dorky enough. He needs to be more genuinely his awkward self and worry less about trying to seem cool, she said.

“He doesn't want to come off as arrogant and I think that's what holds him back. I think he should just embrace (the idea of being a dork) because the thing most women are looking for is that healthy relationship and someone who is a healthy role model for their children. Give me a geek.“

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Filed under: Mitt Romney • Republican Party
soundoff (643 Responses)
  1. The Tin Foil Brigade Is Here

    Dork factor? Uh, yeah, ya think?

    May 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • HOWARD


      May 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    One thing about it though,at least Romney can't sneak up on us with his shower shoe sounding self.

    May 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GOP TOO extreme For U.S

    Romney isn't like able because he's not authentic. He's paper thin when it come's to the issues.

    May 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Voters like you are too stupid for U.S, likeable is one word, not two.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Smittytheclown

    Can you guys keep making crap up to keep the focus off of the economy all thr way through November? I don't think so, but no doubt you'll try!

    May 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • billx

      if romney has a problem, its to his benefit to know, and what the writer is trying to help him with

      May 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robo

      The problem is when we start focusing on the economy, everyone will see it is Republican policies that got us into the mess we are in. It's not going to work out for the GOP. The worse the economy gets, the worse it will be for Republicans.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sr

    What? People don't like a flip-flopping soulless billionaire? Shocking.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      We like flip-flopping Presidents even less.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boo

      LOL!!!!! Slammer!!!

      May 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. chris Omu

    The problem is too fold
    1. He thinks he can buy the white house his money and people dont like that
    2. He is a chronic liar and people are scare of known liars

    May 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      Also maybe we should just elect another Republican President so that he can promptly rip us a new one like before.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brenda

      I bet he can spell though.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mark

    He won't win a "cool" contest with Obama. To the extent that a given voter is swayed by Obama's "cool" factor, that's sad.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • clark juan

      No it is not sad. Being "cool" usually means he is easier to talk to, get along with, negotiate with, and people like and want to be around. Sounds like qualities a president should have, especially in a world that is trying to figure out how to survive as a global society. Someone who can pick up on social ques is a must in order to make anything happen especially when dealing with other cultures. Awkward unlikable people are not able to do that with any skill.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ART

    He's just not one of us

    May 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Glenn

    Folks, it's a Mormon thing. I lived in Utah for 5 years. Blank faces – nobody home. The Mormon culture is so "cult-like" that they really don't have personalities.

    I'm just say'n

    May 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • ITGUY


      May 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • RR

      Sadly, and I'm not a religious bigot at all, you're correct about the LDS religion. It's a blatant (and scary) brainwashing cult.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Travis

      I live in Utah and I didn't grow up in Utah and I have tons of friends that are Mormons. But lets be honest Mormons are not cults unless your definition of every christian is a cult than whatever. Since you lived in Utah you out of all people should know that Mormons are the nicest people and very Christlike Christians. Stop hating.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Redoran

      @Glenn: be advised all Christian sects are Cults.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brenda

      Blah, blah, blah

      May 9, 2012 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  10. Dave

    @ Sr Word!!! & his nose is growing by the hour, I saved the Auto Industry. He is truely a Cartoon!!!!!!

    May 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jill

    President Obama should go to Otterbein – I'm sure they would appreciate it.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John

    I agree with Chris Omu. He thinks he can buy the white house with his money. The american people see right through him.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      At least he is using his OWN money and not the tax payers of this country for his election.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • mcskadittle

      Chuck: he will use very little of his own fortune on this most of the money will come from billionaire doners

      May 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brenda

      The point Chuck was making is that it won't come from taxpayers.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  13. Travis

    That is just one bad speech out of so many great ones that this article is irrelevant. The author is liberal and trying to show Mitt as out of touch. Mitt is genuine he doesn't need a teleprompter for when he speaks, and just yesterday he was tied in national polls against Obama. If Obama didn't have a teleprompter with him for his speech he would have been extremely awkward without knowing what to say. Lisa Desjardin needs to stop wasting my time and CNN's.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DE

    Mr. Flip-Flop Etch-a-Sketch Pandering Lying Mormomney is a pathological serial liar. Do a little research.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CNN is awesome at reporting news

    Lisa Desjardins: your article is awesome because you point out that Mitt is a dork. What a great article for CNN to post.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
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