Political pitches

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At a loss for what else to say about last night's debate, I decided to follow up on "Political pitch ranges" (4/22/2015) by taking a look at the f0 quantiles of the 11 candidates' opening remarks:

As before, Jeb! has one of the lowest voices — here roughly matched by Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Cruz's low pitch range is a bit surprising, since in the NRA speeches I looked at last spring, he was on top of the pitch-range heap. And again, Rand Paul had by far the highest voice of any of the male candidates — in fact he matched Carly Fiorina quite closely. I'm puzzled that (at far as I know) none of the myriad political pundits have commented on how high Rand Paul's speaking voice is.

Each candidate was supposed to take 30 seconds for a self-introduction. Some took at bit more, and some a bit less — but the most interesting thing to me was the distribution of post-intro applause from the audience. 9 of the 11 candidates got 4-7 seconds of applause, but two of them got none at all:

Intro Applause
Rand Paul 21.0 4.3
Mike Huckabee 43.6 5.7
Marco Rubio 25.5 0
Ted Cruz 32.0 0
Ben Carson 38.8 6.8
Donald Trump 26.7 6.1
Jeb Bush 23.0 5.1
Scott Walker 29.4 5.8
Carly Fiorina 35.7 6.4
John Kasich 37.5 6.1
Chris Christie 35.4 5.9

Marco Rubio ended his intro with a lame drought joke, which fell flat, and left the moderator to tell Ted Cruz to go forward:

In contrast, Ted Cruz ended with the same sort of emotional peroration as the other candidates — but for some reason, there was no audience response, at least not before Ben Carson starts his intro:

The noticeable breathiness of Senator Cruz's delivery is presumably the reason for his unexpectedly low pitch range.

Anyhow, here are the numbers behind the f0 quantiles graph:

10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90
CarlyFiorina 144 163 172 179 185 191 198 211 227
RandPaul 147 157 165 174 182 187 196 206 220
JohnKasich 115 125 134 145 155 163 178 196 219
MikeHuckabee 118 129 138 145 153 161 174 187 204
ScottWalker 122 133 141 147 154 158 164 173 184
DonaldTrump 130 140 145 150 154 158 164 170 181
ChrisChristie 116 124 128 133 138 143 149 156 165
MarcoRubio 119 126 129 132 135 140 146 153 163
JebBush 94 107 117 124 130 136 141 148 157
TedCruz 107 112 116 121 126 130 135 145 160
BenCarson 110 114 118 120 123 127 131 135 143


  1. D.O. said,

    September 17, 2015 @ 10:22 pm

    It seems that Gov. Kasich has the largest pitch range of them all (I didn't watch the debate, but I assume they were not signing, otherwise it would be vocal range). I find the high ranging pitch very pleasing in oratory, so +1 for Gov. Kasich.

  2. Sybil said,

    September 18, 2015 @ 1:24 am

    I'm actually glad that no attention has been drawn to Rand Paul's relatively high pitch. Not that I'm a fan of his, or any of them, just that it's one less stupid thing to have to hear about… (Reading about pitch ranges here at LL is a whole other thing, of course.)

    [(myl) I agree entirely. But like hair, out-of-the-ordinary pitch is one of those things that's often noted and caricatured.]

    I wonder what's up with the Cruz data? Now you've almost made me want to listen to the actual debate, darn it!

    [(myl) I'm in the same boat — so far, the introductions are the only part that I've paid serious attention to.]

  3. Carmen said,

    September 18, 2015 @ 2:02 pm

    hey Mark, I'm totally addicted to this now, and glad to have the term rhetoricometry to name my poison. Question, could you possibly run the pitch ranges for us, for each of these? I can kind of eyeball it from your graph but would love to see the data since I think variations in pitch are often linked to emotion and masculinity in interesting ways.

  4. bks said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    Cruz always sounds whiny to me, and I anticipated his F0 would be higher than most. Hmmm.

  5. AHo said,

    September 21, 2015 @ 2:33 am

    Very interesting, thanks Mark! Being a complete novice to this metric (rhetoricometry???) I found it non-intuitive that the female voice's fundamental frequency is less than an octave above even the lowest male. Is this typical? Or just Carly Fiorina?

    [(myl) There's obviously a lot of individual variation among men and among women, and there are some cultural effects as well — see "Biology, sex, culture, and pitch" (8/16/2013) for some discussion. But as my summary of the biology indicates, the expected relationship is well short of an octave, more like a major sixth:

    Human secondary sexual characteristics include a  large difference in the pitch* of the voice, caused by a large difference in the average size of the larynx. This larynx-size difference is about five to seven times larger, in proportional terms, than the average difference between the sexes in height or other linear dimensions (about 50-60% compared to about 8-9%). It translates to a difference of about 70% in median pitch values, on average, between adult females and adult males. This difference is about 4.5 times the within-group standard deviation in such median values, which is a large enough effect that median pitch alone (for comparable speech samples) can be used to classify the sex of human adults quite accurately.


  6. Sarah Creel said,

    September 21, 2015 @ 6:59 pm

    What do Paul's formants look like? If they're still pretty lowish, that might detract from him being perceived as high-pitched.

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