Double speak: In bustling election season, voice actors put profession before personal politics

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True-ish believers

Few political voice actors are as experienced as Mr. Smith, who has been recording ads for almost 40 years and is sometimes referred to as “the voice of God.”

A former Young Republican and GOP county chairman in suburban Detroit, Mr. Smith got his start in 1974 when a media consultant for Michigan Gov. William G. Milliken asked him to be the second actor on a two-voice commercial.

The consultant liked Mr. Smith’s warm, inviting, authoritative voice, which oozes Midwestern authenticity. He hired Mr. Smith to do more campaign work, including spots for the governor of Ohio.

Mr. Smith has worked for Republican candidates and causes ever since.

“Before I started doing this, I was active in politics,” he said. “Being interested and involved makes a difference. Political advertising starts out with, like, zero credibility with the listener. The great requirement for being successful as a voice-over actor is to have an authenticity that you bring to the material.”

Indeed, the nation’s partisan divide isn’t limited to the Electoral College map. Mr. Walker and others in the industry say voice actors generally have to choose between working exclusively for Republicans or only for Democrats. The bifurcation reflects, in part, branding concerns — specifically, the concern that hearing the same voice savage Mr. Romney one day and Mr. Obama the next will introduce an element of cognitive dissonance, undercutting an ad’s message.

“It’s hard to play both sides,” said Mr. Walker, who once worked for both parties but now sticks with Democrats. “When I’m working with the [Democratic National Committee], recording a national or regional commercial, the last thing they want to hear is my voice on an ad for a Republican congressman in Ohio.

“Products like automobiles and fast food ask for that as well. They want signature voices. They don’t want the confusion. Though I’ve heard some big exceptions. [Actor] Sam Elliott used to do Ford pickup trucks. Now he does Chrysler. You would think they would have picked another guy.”

Like Mr. Elliott, Mr. Douglas isn’t picky about his clients. A self-described liberal who “hugs trees without their consent,” he nevertheless works for Republicans and Democrats alike.

His key? Having a sense of humor.

“I have a client who is very conservative and knows I’m an elite, out-of-touch Hollywood liberal,” Mr. Douglas said. “Yet we joke and have a good time. Reading conservative copy makes me laugh. So does a lot of the liberal copy if it’s attacking.

“Working for things I disagree with doesn’t bother me for two reasons. First, I’m taking money out of the pocket of a group I disagree with. Second, no one changes their vote based on a voice. If they do, they’re insane. I don’t take responsibility for insane people.”

Stanley Anderson is different. A 73-year-old voice actor who lives in Los Angeles, he grew up in Montana as a labor-supporting, “dyed-in-the-wool New Deal Democrat” and works exclusively on left-leaning commercials.

“I’m outraged at what is going on in the political world right now,” said Mr. Anderson, who recorded ads for more than 50 races in 2010. “So I have no problem speaking against the Republicans, their method of governance or their candidates. No problem.”

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