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. llatpoh

    Boy... you C N N O b a m aphiles are really stretching to find problems with Romney.
    As far as I am concerned – IT'S HIP TO BE SQUARE... I have had enough of the preezie of the united steezie...

    May 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • ObamaRocks

      @llatpoh....I'm sorry that all you know is how to be "SQUARE!" LOL!!! No matter who told you that its hip-to-be-square...they LIED to you!!! Get out the box, and know that Obama ROCKS!! ~Because your boy Romney is lame & clueless! And PLS, never let anyone hear or read you say that hip2bsqr mess again...its SHAMEFUL. ~OBAMA/BIDEN 2012!!!

      May 9, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    He's not a dork. He's an a–hole.

    Dorks are likable. A–holes are not.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. edeveryday

    Yeah, Romney is a successful business man and Obama is a do-nothing jive-asss with absolutely no executive experience at all, whose only qualification to be President was the color of his skin, and Romney is suppose to be the dork.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Solus5

    I would rather have a dork that knows how to start and run a very sucessful business before because he's actually done it, than someone who can lie through thier teeth with a gleam in thier eye who's only real job before entering politics was community organizing. Come on though.. Stand the 2 men side by side and one looks presidential, the other just looks like a little boy whose out of thier league and knows it.. Sorry Obama.. Romney has you out classed, out experienced, out witted, and out classed...

    Obama said, "It's still about hope" yeah.. I hope I get re-elected.. and "it's still about change" yeah.. i hope they don't change thier mind until I finish wrecking the economy, stabbing our allies in the back, making pacs with the Muslim brotherhood, and driving our national debt into another universe..

    May 8, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dan

    Dorkiness is cool. Romney is not. I'm sure as editor of the Harvard Law Review, Obama qualified as a dork his whole life. Romney's problem is that he's a tool. He's a tool of the wealthy to secure more tax breaks for the wealthy. He's a tool of corporations to create tax loopholes for corporations, bust unions, destroy the middle class, and funnel increasingly large profits to a few wealthy shareholders. And he's a tool because he seeks political power for the seemingly sole purpose of enriching himself and his Nascar owner and factory owner friends. He appears to have no moral convictions, he doesn't seem to care about the middle class or the poor, and he doesn't seem to have any desire to bring justice to those who are oppressed. Romney's a selfish jerk. That's why he's not likeable.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      You couldn't be more wrong. Romney is by far the best qualified presidential candidte in many years. He wil lead and make the tough spending/tax decisions for which Obama doesn't have the guts. btw I voted for Obama

      May 8, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      What evidence do you have that Romney is simply a tool of wealthy corporations? Seems like incredible prejudice on your part.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amjo

      and he sold his soul to the devil. He's lost any of the "self" he may have had, because he became who anyone wants him to be at any given moment. He probably doesn't know who he is anymore and it shows.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Me

    CNN everyday Obama's biggest supporter. Makes me sick

    May 8, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • WhatNow

      Me...I disagree. But, if you really feel that way, why not just go to FOX. I think they pretty much hate Obama too.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amjo

      Don't participate or read it then.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mike fromCalgary

    Romney a "dork" . Most him as a bland boring "Man from Glad" , but at least the man from Glad didn't flip flop and lie like a ruug.
    Ann Romney describe Mitt Romney as "wild and crazy". Americans just see him and his contradictions as "ERRATIC".

    May 8, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      What are you babbling about?

      May 8, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. WhatNow

    I really don't care if he is a dork or a geek or a little green man from another planet. What I do care about is his background. He is a business person from a wealthy family and his devotion is to that world. The US is not a business and was never intended to be a business. He changes his mind too quickly and I have no idea what he thinks about the environment, education, poverty, healthcare, terrorism or the price of gas. Those are the things that matter to me.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Reginald Pitcher

    Mitt needs to understand that you can’t inherit the White House just because you are a Millionaire and can afford to pay people to draft the image you want the world to see. Mitt at the end of the day, you’ll still be the same old dorky you. Yes, the flip flopper who is willing to be all things, to all people just to get into the White House. Mitt hires other people to remind him of what he said yesterday. American does not need a “paper tiger” for president.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. DSO

    Is "coolness" or "dorky-ness" really a good criteria for selecting someone to govern the country? Are we truly that shallow? Folks, we are not electing a Prom King here. Can't believe the media promotes such trivial nonsense.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ED FL

    Dork is to nice a term to explain this Top Of he Line JERK.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. insight

    All I can say is I can't wait for the first debate between Obama and Mitt. Can Mitt have his wife answer for him at the debates? Will Obama's head spin just trying to keep up with Mitts flip flopping? Does Mitt even have a plan for America? If so, will he able to explain it to us or does it belong to Grover too? So many questions... so little answers.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Scott F

    The problem is very simple. Romney has a problem with TRUST. It is very difficult to connect with someone when you don't trust them. He has flip flopped so much and it is on videotape that he has very little credibility. As you may recall from the Republican Primaries his own party doesn't even believe or trust him. Just listen to him when he talks or has to think on his feet. He is, well, a DORK. And you want a flip flopping Dork on the world stage representing our country? No thanks.!!!

    May 8, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      The politician NOT to trust is the one who never changes his or her mind.

      May 8, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Robert

    Likability should NOT be a factor in choosing a President! Qualifications, leadership ability, and policies should be it. Those who vote based on shallow, surficial things like "likability" should forfeit their right to vote.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Art

    Here is the problem. Romney is rich guy telling people that the best way to help themselves is to cut taxes on the wealthy and to cut regulations on businesses. While this sounds like a tough sell it isn't that hard. Reagan convinced Americans of this. So did Bush 41 and 43. Romney is in a tough spot because we have heard this before and he isn't as good a salesman as Reagan or either of the Bushs,
    The people who already believe in supply side and trickle down economics don't need to be sold on it; they already believe it. For those who have to be convinced again he has a big problem.

    May 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
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