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. GloabalTradeIsEVIL

    Wow folks we have a choice between a dork and communist.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Joe

    IF you REALLY REALLY want to see the economy fail–and quick–vote for Romney.
    And when it does fail, he will spend EVERY MOMENT of his time trying to get the money back for his rich friends, while saying he's trying to help EVERYONE. Nonsense. THAT's a DORK.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. KBG263

    Republicans and pretty much everybody else has to be dissappointed in the nominees that went out for the Republican primary bid. Slim pickins.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. janelasdedeus

    "Dork?" This is a word used by elementary schoolers. I presume that whoever wrote the headline is a little more mature than that.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Ludlow Palmer

    He's not stiff because he's a dork, he's stiff because he's a bad actor – and he's lying a LOT these days. The other republican candidates spent months telling the world how bad Romney is (with good reason). Santorum called him the worst republican in the country; Gingrich correctly called him a liar – his superpac produced a video about how Romney got rich as he wiped out thousands of jobs; Bachmann said that Romney can't beat Obama because his MA health plan became the model for the national plan (which it did.) NOW they suddenly think he's the only hope for America? Yeah, sure.... That's a flip-flop if I ever heard one. I'm an independent, but I have to say that there is NO WAY a guy like this should stand a chance against Pres. Obama – and he wouldn't if it weren't for the unlimited donations of his wealthy benefactors (Thanks, supreme court.) If you vote for Romney, you deserve what you get. Personally, I'll stick with the man that has been working to fix the ecomony despite the do-nothing congress; the man who actually caught Osama Bin Ladin (Remember, Bush gave up on that goal and Romney said that he would NOT go into Pakistan to get him); the guy who is ending two wars, including the longest war in U.S. history; the guy who spend two years trying to include both parties in the legislative process, even after Republicans dug their heels in and voted NO time and again, hoping to see the economy drag him down. If you want a president who is controlled by billionaires, oil companies and the like then Romney's your man. I may not like every decision that Pres. Obama has made, but he's done a great job considering the mess he walked into & the lack of cooperation from the right. Mitch McConnell made it clear that his main objective is NOT to help the country, create jobs, etc., but as he said himself – his focus is making Obama a one-term president. That should be hard to do when you've done little to create jobs, tried to prevent the economy from growing, forced a drop in the U.S. credit rating (thanks, Tea Party), and mostly support the rich and powerful. Repblicans have bashed unions, college students AND colleges themselves, minorities, women, the LBGT community, teachers, first responders (think Zedroga Act), immigrants, the unemployed ("unproductive Americans"), the poor, and the middle class. Their trickle-down economics and deregulation brought about the financial collapse – now they want more of the same? I'm not thrilled with the Democrats, but this year the choice is clear. Right now our most of our Republican legislators are purposely screwing up the economy and our country, and they don't deserve our vote. I wish it were different because it's important to have people with differing points of view looking at a problem & trying to solve it. That's how we get good, solid progress. But when one group simply votes NO on everything; when they hold up common tasks like appointments to various positions, debt ceiling increases, funding for infrastructure projects, high-speed rail and the FAA; when they threated to shut down the government over something like funding for Planned Parenthood, it's time to toss them out & replace them with legislators who will actually do some real work. If you're still reading this very long post, you're probably a very concerned citizen. PLEASE do some research on your own and base your votes on fact, not on sound bites. Don't vote like a robot, do your part – seek out information from the more reputable sources, analyze some facts yourself and try to make an informed choice. Thank you.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim in PA

      Bingo.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      Good comments but just so you know, you can separate paragraphs with white space on this blog. Very, very hard to read like that.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • patriot

      So well said, thank you.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • menot

      dude... Thanks for writing a book on this.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • hammer

      No one is more arrogant than Obama.I killed Osama ,I saved the auto industry ,I saved the health care.It is always I.And if you disagree you hate the poor or you are racist.Arrogant Obama should be his name.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Excellent post – thank you!

      May 9, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. greg59

    Yep remember when you had roommates. One was kind of dorky and goofy, but always cleaned up and paid his rent on time. Then the other cool guy that always thought somebody else less cool or maybe dorky should carry him, while he was out being charismatic and spending all YOUR money on himself. Sound familar?

    May 8, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim in PA

      Why it sure does sound familiar, greg59. It sounds like when "cool kid" George Bush beat "dorks" Al Gore and John Kerry, ushering in 8 years of the worst presidency ever. Now if only Repubs could remember this lesson the next time it's THEIR candidate that's the cool one. Yeah, I know... fat chance....

      May 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • SES21

      Good Point, and boy and I broke.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. To R-Money Supporters

    Wake up you sheeples! He is a flip-flopper/flop-flipper extraordinarie. He has no backbone. He allowed the gay staffer on his campaign team be let go, due to the outcry of the anti-gay elements of the GOP. He likes to fire people and likes to outsource jobs overseas. As governor of Massachusetts, his state was 47th in job creation. He hides his money overseas, so he can avoid paying his fair share of taxes. I don't care if he is a dork. What I do care is that he is more concerned for the rich (who are not job creators despite getting tax cuts no thanks to GW Bush) than he is for the middle class.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jim in PA

    Mitt Romney makes John Kerry look like Samuel L. Jackson.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Ludlow Palmer

    Sorry that post was so long.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • s~

      don't worry about it. It didn't make any sense anyway

      May 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • alex chapman

      Forgiven; well stated.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. theavgguy

    Give me this "Dork" than the one in office.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • stanton

      OBAMA COULD NOT GET ANYTHING WORTHWHILE PAST YOUR PARTY OF NO AND YOUR TEA PARTY THUG'S WHO CONTROL THEM!!!!! TALK ABOUT DORK'S THEY TAKE HOME THE TROPHY ON THIS ONE AND IGNORANT PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE RIGHT BEHIND THEM PUSHING FOR ALL THE WRONG THING'S LIKE THE WAR THAT WAS A LIE THAT TOOK OVER 100,000 LIVE'S AND TRILLION'S OF OUR DOLLARS THAT THE MORON FROM TEXAS SQUANDERED ON HIS RICH BACKER'S THAT HE OWED BIG TIME AND THE SUPREME COURT THAT APPOINTED HIM OUR PRESIDENT THEY ALL SHOULD BE IMPEACHED!!!!!!

      May 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JohnRJohnson

    I think "dork" is a good descriptor for Romney. He is so awkward around people and unable to relate that he comes off as this stiff, 2-dimensional personality that has been manufactured for the cameras. Even his walk is odd. He takes short little half steps and barely moves his upper body when he walks. It like a physical manifestation of his awkward personality. I think he probably behaves exactly the same way when he is at home with his family. His dorkiness isn't manufactured at all. It's just who he is. If you gave him a lie detector test about his history of flip-flops, he would undoubtedly pass it with flying colors.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. DAK2742

    Perhaps people don't like Romney because he is a liar? I mean normal people, not Republicans. Republicans will hold their nose and vote for a known liar, a known cheat, a person who will say anything to anybody just for a vote then change his mind and his message a few minutes later... A true Republican in today's America is more worried about WHO gets elected than the values of the person elected. Anyone but Obama sounds good until you get a person like Mitt in the election, but like I said, today's GOP will vote for any one, no matter how much they lie, cheat or steal just as long as they are willing to promise them anything. After all, no lie is too big, no promise too small for Mitt to make.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Johnh77

      Romney is not a liar.
      But amazingly, your words sounds exactly what I would say about a liberal or a dem. It seems like as long as a candidate promises to give you something, you will vote him in office. I mean, you really do not see many republicans walking to their mail boxes looking for a government check. Who is getting lied to? I want a person that will help me combat the likes of you looking for something for nothing. In other words, you want what I got and frankly, I don't want you to just take it. Try earning it.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tonic

    DORK? He's not interesting enough to be a dork. He's a wimp, a liar, someone who hedges his bets constantly and isn't afraid or concerned for the small people he's stepping on.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Dean Price

    I find it amusing that three years ago the media embraced the current President to such a degree that you could not find any realistic journalism that looked at his past, upbringing, associations etc. He had a blank check for critical remarks. Fast forward to today and you can't pick-up a newpaper, or t.v. commentary that finds "any" fault in our President. I voted for PO the las time based upon what I was told by the media. Turns out my middle of the road politics is to far central to vote for him again.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. mh

    We have someone who is a good public speaker in office now and is ruining our country. I will take the dork.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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