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. beau

    So the Republicans are going to settle on an east coast, elite, millionaire from an aristocratic family? What is his experience that will make him a successful Conservative President?
    1. He fires people, lays off employees, and outsources jobs while pocketing the pension funds of those same employees.
    2. He is comfortable in an upper class setting. After all, America IS the upper class, isn't it? The little people, like you and I, are not really very important. People of Romney's class and background see us as livestock that can understand English.
    3. He does not care if Americans suffer. He has made lots of them suffer so far in his life. He's made of tough stuff. No weepy compassion will ever cloud his judgment.
    4. He knows how to destroy corporations and sell off their assets. He could use those skills to destroy the federal government, a stated goal of Conservatism
    5. After the Romney Administration is over in 2016 or 2018, Conservatives will say, "Hey, you can't blame us for the disastrous Romney Administration. He wasn't a TRUE Conservative. What we need is a TRUE Conservative like Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum … or maybe Senator Palin."

    May 8, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Little Tin God

      @beau: You're kidding on number 5. Right? You're being sarcastic?

      May 8, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • LTNN7890

      You forgot the China factor ....... If Romney has billions invested in China , how will this effect dealing with China ?. Will they hold his billions $$$$ over his head ? even tho his businesses will be in a trust fund he will still know that he has an investment in China that could be compenscated by that Government .
      ............ NOT COOL............

      May 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. travis

    I have had enough of the glitz and grandiose speeches. It is time for substance!!

    Romney may be a dork.....but it is time for someone that has some real world experience.

    The hope and change hype experiment failed miserably.

    May 8, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Irskan

      'The hope and change hype experiment failed miserably.'

      yep, mainly due to dorks in the way...

      May 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Little Tin God

      Romney has "real world" experience? Since when? What has he actually ever done that could even remotely put him in the same place as 98% of the American population?

      May 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      The only thing Romney ever supported was Wall Street banker bailouts and returning to Iraq. Romney is not buying my vote and neither is Obama. Ron Paul 2012

      May 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      If you're looking for "real" world experience Romney isn't your man. How can an out of touch multi-millionaire venture capitalist know what most of the people in this country go through on a daily basis. Your definition of reall world most likely doesn't coincide with "real" life.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. xavi

    Where's the beef?

    May 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Stephen

    Dork factor, try used car salesman factor. Call a spade a spade, Romney is selling snake oil and CNN is in bed with him. Ron Paul 2012

    May 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. JL Taylor

    The tea party is dead

    May 8, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Louise

    It is amazing to me how people express negative feelings and opinions. Why call names? Try offerring evidence to support your claim or statement. On CNN on the Early Show that features two ladies–the money lady had a graph that illustrated the job situation since Bill Clinton's presidency. You would be able to see what is true and what is not. The graph is very enlighting. I was truely amazed at what I was seeing. Maybe someone can suppy the name of the show and the money lady's name. After looking at the graph there could be a diffence in some of the comments.

    May 8, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • FLIndpendent

      @Louise – it doesn't matter how many graphs, numbers and facts you put in front of some people as they are willfully blind and want the black president out no matter what. President Obama could have cured all of the world's ills and he still wouldn't be good enough for some.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. joe

    Forget dork factor. I can't see past his policies, not to mention I can't keep up with how fast he changes his tune on key issues.

    May 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Little Tin God

      Romney has policies? Since when? Oh yeah! His main policy is to agree with the people he's currently speaking to. Assuming that they haven't fallen asleep.

      May 8, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. joe sarr

    Romney can sell her mother as freezer to Eskimo

    May 8, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Moe

    The dork "slur" landed a little too close to home ISaac?

    May 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. kathat0

    To whomever wrote the article : A dork and a geek are not the same thing. People value geeks these days, look at Gates and Jobs. In my world a dork is someone who doesn't fit in to the zeitgeist. They are not cool, not geek, not goth, not average and not genuine.They imitate ways of speaking and dressing and cultivate 'acting normal' but they really have no clue as to who or what they really are.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. LTNN7890

    He is the wrong man for the Presidency for sure ........... OBAMA 2012 .

    May 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Gary DelAbate

    "Dork Factor"? Haha,,I guess that sums it up as best as any phrase could.

    Obama 2012!

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

    How to win friends and influence people is too dated to work on todays yutes

    May 8, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Allen

    Granted he isn't willing to oil up his pecs to the appropriate glisten and run in slow motion on a beach in Hawaii for the papernazi like the Obamessiah, but does that make him a dork, or just a real candidate? Nobama is stretching out his glutes kowtowing to the chinese to maybe get some glistening butt shots in this election to push him over the top. Not sure Romney's real world experience can compete with the double threat of glistening pecs AND glutes from the do nothing party line voting senator from the most corrupt city in the nation who's foreign policy achievements include cowering before the Chinese, talking "anything goes" after the election on open mike night in the Kremlin, and releasing Taliban on their own recognizance because "hey, they're good for it." Say...maybe he could trade back some more Taliban for a hundred thousand or so twenty dollar opium funded mystery contributions from Afghanistan. Not sure that'll offset the "bama bucks" he's handing out so people will drop off the job hunting rolls to push down the unemployment percentage. Oh hahaha what am I thinking, "WE'RE paying for all that anyway. You know I just realized who the real dork is, anybody that votes for Mr. Hope and loose change.

    May 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • harvey johnson

      Pull your head out and stop watching fox news. Romney wouldn't make a good paper boy.

      May 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Herbys

      I find it patheric when commenters can only bash Obama by distorting his name in silly ways and never talk about specific mistakes. At best they say "he's been unable to quickly get us out of the hole we dug the country into" but most of the time is all about calling him "blah blah Obama" or "Nobama" or things like that, as if that made a point.
      Face it, you don't like Obama and you don't know why.

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

      You sound scared Allen! Sweat much?

      May 8, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. alkarrk

    I love dorky Romney! I've known he was a dork for a long time. Give me a dork who is successful with turning things around and actually knows how the economy works over a cool, inept president beloved by ignorant movie stars any day!!!

    May 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • judith

      Romney was never successful at turning things around, instead he gutted companies, fired workers an the ones who did remain had reduced wages and benefits, all so Romney and his partners could fatten up their bank accounts. He claimed to "turn around" the Olympic games, but did so by securing big government paid for by taxpayers. He had a terrible record in Massachusetts and left with an approval rating in the 30's.
      '

      May 8, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      The only thing billionaire Romney is good at is supporting Wall Street bailouts. He's not buying my vote. Ron Paul 2012

      May 8, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
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