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. Ramona

    STUD??!! I'll pass! He is not come across as Presidential or Confident!!

    May 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. January24

    Joe Biden is king of the Village of Dork.

    CNN is the queen of manufactured "news." Maybe that's why their ratings in April were the lowest they'd had since August of 2001.

    At any given time in April, only 375,000 were watching CNN. Tiny handful out of 300 million.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • mary J

      the reason why CNN has lost viewers is because their reporting has tilted decidedly to the right. Really. its True. Ask Wolf Blitzer. His bosses must be pushing him because I usually like his Situation Room but lately not so much. Too Bad. He's got a lot of savvey....

      May 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ramona

    STUD??!! I'll pass! He does not come across as Presidential or Confident!!

    May 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jrl

      Obama has degraded and smeared the office of the presidency so badly, that you don't recognize someone presidential when he takes a crap on your head

      May 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bob

    Dork? Seriously? Someone want to look that one up on the urban dictionary and retract that statment?

    Personaly I would take it as a compliment 🙂

    May 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. alex chapman

    Karl Rove had a blast when it was Al Gore or John Kerry that had the 'Dork Problem". Now that it's his guy w/the problem, it ain't all that funny.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pips

      All the hard right Republicans really dislike this guy. Newt, Palin, Santorum, etc.. They all totally despise this guy with a passion. He implemented Obamacare before Obamacare. He is more center left than even Obama himself. You couldn't see this guy hunting down and taking out Bin Laden, Gaddaffi, and doing endless drone strikes into Pakistan killing Al Queda operative one after another. This guy will take over businesses and simply fire everyone. Tell them tough luck, they should go get a loan from their parents if they need help paying their mortgage or getting through school.

      No one likes this guy. No one.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. taylor

    i dont know about Dork, but i can't stand the way he jerks around, like he is a
    puppet on strings, there is something really odd about the way he moves.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • yogi

      And...the way he walks, as if he has to go really bad.
      I prefer the generous walk of Obama.
      Four more years.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee Ann

      Reply – Taylor
      You nailed it.... I thought I was the only one seeing his puppet act.. It's just weird how he swings, tilts and moves his head on stage.. It's almost creeepy. It's always the questionable look he gives every time he stops talking.. "Do you really really get me, do you really really understand me"??? Pause!....

      May 8, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gandoman

    Is anyone else tired of being told by someone running for President that they can solve all my problems, all the states problems, all the countries problems in a very short time?
    This coming from someone who has never served in Congress.
    Why would anyone even want to see Romney in the White House?
    There is no justification that he is capable of repairing Congress & he certainly lacks the experience to work with the Congress.
    Romney will not accomplish anything if he is elected!
    Of course, that is still better than 8 years of going backward under George '3 below plant life' Bush.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. palintwit

    I predict that someday Sarah Palin's trailer will become another Graceland. People will pay big bucks to go on a tour. Or maybe even a Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial

    May 8, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24


      Thank you for just exactly the kind of childish patter we need in an economic crisis that grows worse by the day. We can always count on you Democrats to be timely and insightful! Not. At all.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. January24

    Wow. Now that Obama's ratings are in the to i let . . . and all the latest polls show Romney either edging Obama or tying him . . . the non-Fox media is getting DESPERATE. Now they're pulling out the "Romney's not cool" argument - a sure-fire winner in the middle of a Depression when people are actually wondering about the survival of America.

    Romney is an intelligent, successful, mature person who UNDERSTANDS the free enterprise system. He is everything that Barack Obama is not. And thank God, people are beginning to understand that America has ONE MORE CHANCE to get it right. If the dreadful Obama is elected again, it'll all be over but the crying.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. skeptical

    Gregarious Obama...did nothing even when he had full control of the House and Senate. Dork Romney...awesome business man, governor of Mass...sign me up!!!

    May 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pips

      Obama never had filibuster proof control of the house or senate. Romney will not either. Nothing will get done either way.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      I can see why you like Romney because you lie like he does. For once and for all people, President Obama DID NOT have full control of Congress for two years as there was NOT a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. Please get educated and quit repeating everything you hear on Faux news. Our society is really in deep doo-doo and I strongly belileve Faux news has a major role in our downfall!

      May 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brian Geraghty

    Obama is much more of a dork than Romney, Obama also happens to be an absolutely terrible president. Actually nerd or geek fits Obama better, effeminate does as well oh yeah wuss comes to mind when I think Obama too.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24

      Yes, he is, Brian. Obama is an absolutely dreadful, failed president. All of CNN's "dorky" stories can't obfuscate that fact, try though they might in their very own transparent way.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Instead of throwing out the "Obama is the worst president" thing, how about you telling us why you think so? Give us specifics. Maybe you haven't heard that Bin Laden is dead, GM is alive, positive jobs numbers for the last 25 months, unemployment rate going down, Iraq war over, Afghanistan winding down, and the list of achievements goes on!

      May 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Roger

    He is someone who specializes in turning unprofitable companies to profitablity. He is not the guy next door but he is someone who can get the job done. I would trust him with my family, with my money and with my country. I know we are supposed to pretend that everything is good right now but it isn't. We need Romney.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David

    see now when a name is used for the liberals we get attacked all over the news so cnn is doing the liberals dirty work by calling romney a dork the should be ashamed of themselves they call them professionals well their far from that and this is why they keep losing viewers like obama keeps losing votes shame on cnn and obama

    May 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24

      CNN has become a self-parody. It's sad to watch. They always skewed left, but now that their ratings are so dreadfully far down, their desperation has become palpable. I don't like the overused expression "jumping the shark," but when I saw Soledad O'Brien on some alleged comedy show doing the most unfunny skit imaginable (a pretend group interview with some stock stereotypes), I realized that, indeed, CNN HAS jumped the shark.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      If "dork" is the worst thing Romney is called I would say CNN is being very kind. How about all the hateful names that for Obama that come out of the Faux news minions?

      May 8, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    As governor, Massachusetts was 47th in job creation! When this guy was governor, workers in Massachusetts saw their wages fall significantly while many got pink slips! Romney took over companies and made millions in profits while laying off thousands of workers, shipping jobs overseas and bankrupting businesses. Romney is worth $250 million but only pays 14% in federal taxes, a rate far lower than middle class families! Let's ace it, Mitt Romney is good for the 1% but bad for America! Obama/Biden 2012!

    May 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BobF

    As a devout, active Mormon, a U.S. citizen living in Canada, it will give me great pleasure in November to vote for President Obama.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24

      No one gives a rat's about your religion, Bob. But if you're voting for Obama, you need to see a medical professional about that brain damage.

      May 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
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