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. Jim Brody

    Yes, he's a dork. But that's the smallest problem I have with the guy. No way I'd vote for him.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jason

    Mittens is Adorkable!

    May 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Richard Broderick, jr.

    It's not just Mitt that is awkward, it is also his message.

    His problem is that it is ridiculous to propose yet more tax breaks for the ultra-rich and that is his only song.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. josh rogen

    I'm sure if Obama loses he'll find a way to void the results so why all the fuss?

    May 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fairpol

    Doesn't matter how the libs spin it, this election is about turning around the bad economy and Obama has failed miserably. The Canadians up north under a fiscal conservative government are doing much much better, as rich Canadians are buying up cheap houses in sunshine states like Arizona & Florida where housing markets collapse in this terrible economy. Obama has his time and has proven a failure to turn it around. Not surprising. Since when a community organizer is hired to fix up the financial challenges of a corporation, let alone a superpower? Romney has turned around many businesses, the SLC Olympics, and the state of Massachusetts. Before Romney, MA was in financial turmoil with mounting deficits and increasing job losses. Romney turned it around, by turning the 3 billion deficits into 2 billion surplus, with approx 4% unemployment. He won MA by a whopping 72% of the votes. That proves his success and popularity. The libs can spin things all they want, but Obama has failed to walk his sweet talk, and Romney has walked the talk. Obama said if he could not fix the economy, then he was looking to be a 1-term president. Well said. It is time for a change. Romney is the turn-around specialist who will steer America out of its financial mess.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Old hat

      Yeah, Romney brought the state economy around, but he did it with fed money.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Obama has improved the economy in every major way we have to measure it. And you talk of spin....

      May 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. tkindsm

    Romney is stiffer body language wise then Obama but I’d rather have the stiffer looking executive fellow with a clue how to make America prosper again running things then the cool calm and collected fool who doesn't know what to do except pause and smile really really big when he has an awkward moment hoping people will think he is self abasing himself so as to appear that him being a fool was on purpose to prove a point.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • schilaufer

      Obama is Mr. Cool in crowds but a complete dork in person. Remember the incident when the British PM came to visit? Obama gifted them 25 DVDs! What the F?
      Romney is Mr. Cool in person but very dorky in crowds. So which one do you want?

      I would rather have Romney Style.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lardeau

    I'm in Canada and a very average regular guy. I'm reasonably intelligent and I fully understand the big R card .. but Obama really impresses me with his persona. Joe Cool - he has an air of self confidence. Romney on the other hand comes across as a stuffed shirt. Obama can relate to the upper middle class as well as to the Joe Sixpacks. Romney can't relate to Joe.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • GMAN

      Who cares???

      The only thing that matters is who can get the job done....and Obama has PROVEN that he can't.

      Some of us know that before the last election but now everybody does.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24

      Down here, we're sick of "cool." I hope you can understand. When your neighbor has lost his job, it's a "recession.' When you're lost your job, it's a Depression.

      I'm glad you won't be voting. The latest polls are indicating that Romney is ahead. Most of us hope it stays that way.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • dkinabq

      or the 6 pack

      May 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Shangey G.

    If they had Gallop polls back in the days of Washington or Jefferson, et al, I wonder what their likeability factor would have been? It could have been low, it might have been high - who knows. They may not have had a high-likeability factor either.

    I don't think it's necessary for the role of president to be likeable to everyone. And besides, I think the role now is more of a spokes-model - show up for speeches and read the teleprompter and say a couple of jokes, and sign here and here. That's it. No one can convince me one guy is some how balancing the intricacies of a country of 311 million people.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      I think you're spot on when you say the President is like a, that begs to question, would we rather have a charismatic persona that has to deal with other world leaders, or a stuffed shirt that continually flip-flops? Remember, we're elected the Leader of the Free World, not just our President.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. gman999

    Wonderful. The CNN propoganda machine is going into high gear. Trying to label Romney a dork. Well let be have my turn and label O-blame-an: Incompetent buffoon.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • GMAN

      Right on brother.........

      May 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mojobutta

    Women do NOT love dork. Romney has zero charisma. He has few to no progressive ideas with merit and has little chance to make it into the White House. The GOP really needed to back Paul, but they're just too moronic.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24


      I hate to break it to you, but we've TRIED "progressive idea.' For more than three years now.

      It's time to try ideas which support (rather than hinder) private enterprise. Gov't. never has and never will be able to create jobs. That is what the private sector does.

      Thank God our President-to-be Mitt Romney understands this well.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      @January – I hate to break it to you but we have NOT had progressive policies as most of what President Obama proposes is shot down by the obstructionists. I think out of all the lies that come from the Repubs this is the one that bugs me the most – President Obama is still dealing with the Repub policies and cleaning up their mess but it hasn't been quick enough because his policies haven't been able to get passed.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ray

    Is this the image of power the US will display to other country a dork?

    May 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24


      Does the name Joe Biden ring a bell with you, sport?

      Biden is the King of the Country of Dorkdom. (And if you'd like to think historically as well, John Kerry and John Edwards were both about as dorky as they come. Edwards ruined his life for the most b imbo of all b imbos - and yet Kerry though Edwards was presidential material. God help us.)

      May 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Buzz

    Concur. Romney does not have the required charm to be president. "Panache" is missing. I do not want the image of the US to the world being that of a rich, conceited, used car salesman.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24


      Buzz, we are in a freaking Depression and you want CHARM?!?

      God help you, man. We need somebody who understands BUSINESS.

      And just so you know, there are millions upon millions of us who think the last thing the dreadful Barack Obama is is charming. Unless you mean in a snake-like way.

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

    Hey I don't support Mitt but I'm not going to call him a dork. That is petty. Newt on the other hand bears the entire brunt of dorkage.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. G Smith

    A leader who doesn't "connect" is simply not a good leader...

    And if that person wants to be's simple...we can't risk it.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ras Tafari

    I believe Romney think he should'nt have to do all that hard work to be president; its his life long ambition, and whatever the rightwingers want him to do to get there he will, he deserve it. Fasten your seatbelts, because usually when driven to this extent, the dark side comes out ; we are in for a treat with this Romney guy when the pressure mounts.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Remember, Ann Romney said it was their turn. That is how the Repubs roll, whoever is next in line for the Presidency is their candidate no matter how bad that person is. Mitt is counting on his $$$ and SuperPacs to sweep him into the WhiteHouse – no work needed!

      May 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
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