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. Etch-A-Mitt

    Unless you have a hundred million in the bank or own a NASCAR or NFL team Mittens just can't relate. He is so out of touch with regular people it is amazing. And standing up there flip flopping all the time must get a little uncomfortable. Trying to remember which position to take for different audiences in the same day can be exhausting.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. s~

    At least Mitt doesn't make up imaginary girl friend.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. DAK2742

    “First in my heart is to get rid of Obama…”

    Easy to see you are just the kind of voter the GOP is wishing for. No matter how bad Mitt is, no matter how much he lies, cheats or steals, he still gets your vote. Typical of the sheep following the judas goat into the slaughterhouse. So you are willing to sell out you values, your morals, your convictions just to keep Obama from a second term? (This is assuming you dislike lying, cheating and stealing… or do you always turn a blind eye when a Republican is doing it because then it is okay?)

    May 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Malty

      Romney is a better, more qualified leader than Obama. I'd rather have a 'out of touch' guy that knows what he's doing than Obama, a guy that pretends to know and puts his personal and party agenda ahead of American.

      Romney in 2012.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. bannister

    Obama is as dorky as they come. Looks like this election will be the "War of the Dorks".

    May 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. GMAN

    I'm sure it has nothing to do with the left wing media, like CNN, spending every minute possible attacking Romney and trying to make him look bad in every way possible.

    But that's OK.....you see most Americans would prefer to have an intelligent leader rather than a BS artist like the one we have in the WH right now.

    Once Obama gets thrown out of office this November, he can spend all of his time being "cool" on the late night talk shows....after all, that's all he's good at anyway.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • snowdogg

      Great spin... it isn't Mitt it is the media!

      May 8, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Inglourious

      Yes, we want an intelligent leader: bring back GW Bush!

      May 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • sir si

      aja! Good answer! I prefer a dork any time over an egotistical commie!

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

      Obama losing??
      didnt take your meds again, did you : )

      May 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • GMAN

      If you don't like Romney, then why don't we just elect a guy who's never even had a real job, let alone created one in his whole life......oh, that's right, we just tried that.....working out great, sin't it?

      May 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • longtooth

      Republicans never got over Nixon's loss to JFK. That's where America first learned the word "charisma". Kennedy had it. Nixon did not. Reagan had it. Romney does not.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Please enlighten us on Romney's "intelligence". I used to think he wouldn't be that bad as President but I'm actually utterly shocked at how out of touch he is and how he has absolutely no core.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Debby

    I think CNN is the dork factor on this one. Yesterday Romney is neck and neck with Obama in the polls according to Cnn so obviously someone likes Romney. This is why CNN is in the toilet for ratings they don't even know what they print from day to day.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Meadmaker

    Romney reminds me of the character Sheldon, from "The Big Bang Theory." Only his arrogance comes from great wealth, not great intelligence.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Sorry, but Willard needs to increase his personality quotient if he is to be considered a Dork. Maybe a cardboard-cutout version of a Dork. Maybe a vinyl blow-up version of a Dork. But he has a long way to go to merit consideration as a Dork. I think the old Norse term of Nithing is more appropriate, given that his personality is a blank piece of paper that he has allowed others to define him by.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. FRANK - LAS VEGAS

    That would be DORK and LIAR, right? He's extremely good at telling half truths and outright lies while never coming up with a plan or telling what he would do. Well he will tell you his position after the Tea Baggers tell him what it is. As for the Dork factor, look at his face while he gets applause, talk about a dorky look. But what can you expect from a vulture capitalist.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Copper's Donut Shoppe

    romney is just an opportunistic scam artist and even the glazed over reborns can tell.
    he would put on an SS arm band tomorrow if he got the elections because of it

    May 8, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. needNewGov

    Perhaps we elect Romney and then send him to the middle east. He talks, they fall asleep, we send in the drones. Could clean up the middle east pretty cheaply.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Puzzled 77

    Lisa

    You stated that, "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." "He was not connecting."

    Could this be because of what he was saying? Could this be because he does not have a compelling plan for America? America needs a leader with vision. Romney does not seem to have any real vision for America.

    What matters to America is not his presence but what he would do if elected president.

    Seems like electing a Wall Street guy as President would be like giving the keys to the hen house to the foxes.

    Seems to me

    May 8, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. name

    bah make your own decisions people, don't decide something just because someone told you to

    May 8, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • name

      if you don't, please don't vote. your only doing bad.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Colin Morgan

    He just strikes me as very awkward and almost creepy.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bob

    What an absolutely stupid headline and blog.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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