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. KM

    If the economy could be righted by popularity, then we would already have a thriving economy. I can't speak for all Americans, but I personally am more interested in a person as president who can provide the leadership we need. Certainly, it is possible to elect a president based upon popularity and it has happened in the past, but when it comes to dealing with the important issues, especially in times of crisis, Americans will hopefully choose the candidate with more leadership experience. Popularity doesn't effectively deal with the tough issues.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. BLKvotingAmerican

    I say he's not a much a "dork" as he is just out of touch with reality of middle America. He dosen't even attempt to reach out to middle America, as far as he and the rest of the repuks are concern, there is no middle America. STUPID best define that concept and SHALO.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • ug

      You must live in a glass house with the windows painted so you can't see outside...your loser has made things so bad that he doesn't keep in touch with reality of this country of r the people...he is to busy singing and dancing and lying spending money and keeping high unemployment and k i l s jobs in this country...so who is out of touch...obviously you and him are...

      May 9, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  3. Wiley Thruster

    I'd rather have a competent dork as President than an incompetent American Idol wannabe.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • skpfrmdc

      .....So it's back to Reagan for you?

      May 9, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  4. ug

    Things are going to change around here this fall...the dork in the WH now is going to be history...

    May 9, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • JPX

      Really? Obama has always seemed like a very cool person to me. I think you meant the king of dorks, George W.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Crymore

      More like D!ck factor. Grab a box of Kleenex come November. You're gonna need it.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. St Xavier

    Romney for president only if he pays me to vote for him an I'm sure he can. Get it fokes MONEY MONEY he has it an we don't an he will see to it that his rich corp friends get the cream off the top an we get whats feft. So if you don't mind paying for his car elevator for his new house be my guest.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris81611

      Well my friend hes a successful man. Maybe if you got to work and were a smart as him you will be on the same page. Education my friend does help but a lot of people are just to lazy and love to have Government assistance.

      May 9, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      @Chris – Yes, an education is a very good thing. Too bad most kids can't ask their parents to lend them money to go to college as Mittens suggested. That had to be one of the dorkiest, elitist and completely out of touch thing any presidential candidate would suggest. What parents wouldn't automatically pay for their kid's education if they had the money to do so? To suggest a kid ask their parents for money to go to college is just so arrogant!!

      May 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Badley

    If Romney is percieved as a Dork by his own country what does the rest of the World think of him? Perception is a powerful influence and the Despots, Terrorists, and other World Leaders will take advantage of the Dorkiest Leader out there (Mitten Romeny) do we really want that?

    May 9, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. julie

    Please mitt voters............tell us ALL how ole mney mitts will bring jobs back from china...........how will he make the economy better help less fortunate folks, how is mitt going to create jobs (not fire folks) how is he going to make housing market better, lower gas (since repubs say it is pres. can control gas prices) Please enlighten us we want to know what does mitt purpose to the American people how is going to work this out

    AND for those of you that say Pres. Obama has DONE NOTHING IN THE 3 + yrs in office or you CLAIM his policies have FAILED...name what he has NOT done that you thougth he should of done AND DO NOT JOKE around we really want to know why your man mitt is the best answer for america........please don answer with a question
    we are waiting for your enllightment and now is your time to sing mitt praises fire away folks...getting my popcirn and soda............birds singing, crickets churping, tumble weeds rolling by............come on peeps talk to us

    May 9, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. SlaveWorld

    We Want Ron Paul but You the Media, Don't because He Doesn't Support Your Corporate Agenda for America.

    May 9, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  9. Chris81611

    Oh please stop with the hate on romney. All you democrats do is get free money. This is the problem we are also in debt and the blame is to obama. People are now lazy thanks to obama giving them large amounts of money. Most the people on government assistance can work but are to lazy so of course they would vote for a dempocrat. Republicans are hard workers and make things fair. Romney 2012 :)

    May 9, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Yeah! Its really hard to swindle a $Million a minute from the TAXPAYER...where the work ethic, or any other Ethic comes in, we are all agog to hear. Last I read the Corporate' s and Banksters...are only surviving off of FED handouts; imagine that, successful and ethical GOP/TP Demented, that sure will be the day.

      May 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Wow, as a left-leaning indy I'm still waiting for all that money Obama supposedly gave us. I believe it was Bush who bought his favor with the public by giving us tax refunds we couldn't afford.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Where is my free money?

      May 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trey

      how do democrats get free money? Please tell me the last time a Republican fixed the nations economic crisis? And don't say Lincoln because his republican party changed into the democratic party as of now and the democrats then became the republicans now.Romney provides opinion, criticism on what Obama is doing; taking credit for the auto bailouts that he was clearly against, and provides no solutions to anything. So please explain what you mean by your post.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Zee

    Haha thats why we need Ron Paul he's truly an American sure he's a politician but at least doesn't have an elevator to he's 15 cars(Mitt Romney) Ron Paul is our only hope and if we don't elect him as nominee America is done for

    May 9, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. Vai Rua

    I'd rather vote for a "dork" who knows what he's doing than someone with charisma that is CLUELESS!

    Mitt 2012!!!

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

    Because he reminds us of a robot sent from the future to destroy Sarah conner. thats what he looks like, sounds like and flip flops like his computer is running low on memory. AAAh Mitt how we long strapping dogs to roofs while looking at the hight of tree's and driving 15 cars all at the same time. you're really in touch with America

    May 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. badaluca

    thats all America needs is another dork!! good one

    May 9, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jon

    So now you liberals have resorted to calling names. Typical.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      I think we're at least 3 years behind the Repubs on calling names.

      May 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Yankee Skeptic

    Hopefully in 2012, voters will look beyond Romney's "Dorkiness" and Obama's"Coolness".

    May 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
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