Vocal Formality and Public Appeal in the U.S.

Working paper available upon request. Under review.

Candidate traits such as competence and leadership are important heuristics citizens rely on in making their vote choice. The literature surrounding these traits has analyzed both what drives voters to make such evaluations, as well as what their effects on other quantities of interest are. However, this literature has primarily focused on the content of political rhetoric affects these trait evaluations, ignoring delivery. Given that the tone of voice is hugely influential in how a speaker is perceived, this is a critical oversight. In this paper, I conduct a survey experiment to determine what trait evaluations voters make when listening to one of two different speech styles: formal compared to informal. Furthermore, I evaluate the role of the speaker’s gender in this relationship. The results indicate that respondents attribute greater competence and education to more formal speakers. Electoral concerns are unaffected except for older respondents, who prefer formal speech even more strongly. Female speakers are perceived as more down-to-earth, while males do better in terms of leadership. Furthermore, for women, informal speech is judged more harshly in terms of competence. Informal speech for male speakers is seen as an indicator of being conservative.