Whilst we like to think that we make a decision about a politician based on the political message they are conveying, there is no doubt that the way they present themselves in image and words has a huge impact on how we perceive them. Regardless of whether or not the way a person presents themselves is actually a true representation of what they can do, the fact is that the judgements we make have a huge impact on our political decision making.
Do Words Spoken By Politicians Even Matter?
For any public figure, the way they present themselves is important. With political figures, it is even more important because they consistently want the attention of the public and the media. They want to win your approval, so they are judged by what they have to say. This is the same as you would judge an advert on a podcast, or on TV – if they (a company or person) want something from you, you naturally judge them more stringently than you would with other places you see and hear people. That is why politicians have media training, so that they understand the impact they have with the way they present themselves in newspapers, TV interviews, podcast interviews and more.
Politicians also know that they are being judged on the way they sound and appear, not just on the content they provide their audience. Science tells us that this non-verbal communication provided by politicians is extremely relevant because our brains process it and remember it very quickly and easily, so it can be more important than spoken words. In addition to how words are said, the same study suggested that we are also affected by body motion and the way a politician moves.
Accent is a huge factor in the way that we perceive not just politicians, but other people in general. The American accent is one of the most easily recognised given its prevalence in popular culture. Of course, as the message of a politician is so important, accent has more of an impact in that the accent bias we have causes us to make really important decisions perhaps with an influence from the way a person sounds.
One great example of this is with a study performed by the Accent Bias Britain site. The study showed that accent bias is still present with the majority of people still believing that RP (spoken by most politicians) is still the most prestigious accent and the one that is necessary in most professional working positions. However, interestingly the younger generations were less impacted by accent bias, or at least the same ones presented by older participants. In addition, the content being spoken was to some degree a factor in lessening the accent bias that was present. Of course, combine that with the study we discussed above and it is possible that by the time accent bias and first impressions have been made with the way somebody sounds and moves, the content of a politician’s speech would still be almost irrelevant to some degree.
The Contrast Between The Way Politicians Sound And The Way We Feel Represented
Interestingly, the UK is widely multicultural and made up of 50% of people who self identify as working class, the rest is a mixture of middle and upper class. RP is an accent that is associated with wealth and education, and as we mentioned above is something associated with professional jobs. Yet, it is also an accent that suggests the person speaking is not relatable to the working class, or even the middle class.
So, when it comes to the accents of politicians, of which most have an RP accent, there is a disparity between how we relate to those in charge, and who we expect to be in charge. This is something a professional voiceover agency can advise on.
There’s a degree of aspiration that also lacks from this current situation because a person with one accent does not hear people like them in power, and so, they may not feel that it is an achievable goal.
A report by the government in 2019 pushed this issue further, showing that the most influential people in Britain are five times more likely to have been to private school than the rest of the population. Those who have been in private education receive elocution lessons as standard (teaching RP) and they are also influenced by their peers and the way words are pronounced by them.
The Way Politicians Sound Matter
As much as we all wish that we only judged a politician on their message, the fact is that content is often secondary to the impression they make on us with the way they sound and move. Whilst most of us may not see ‘ourselves’ in them, accent bias still remains and suggests that we expect them to sound a certain way, to do a good job. With such a high percentage of privately educated people – who are more likely to have an RP accent – being in positions of power, the chances are that this situation is unlikely to change in the near future.