Another snarky attempted put-down by CNBC

College-level speaking not required at the GOP debates

From:,  by Eric Chemi & Nicholas Wells,  on Oct 29, 2015,  see the article HERE.


In debates rife with confrontation and verbal barbs, there was one thing that wasn’t a big surprise: Nobody was speaking above a high school level.

And at least one front-runner was in elementary school territory.

That’s according to a Big Crunch analysis of the first three Republican debates, looking at the candidates’ speech patterns — and matching to them an appropriate school-grade level. We based our analysis on the well-known Flesch-Kincaid readability test. (Some readers might remember playing with this feature on Microsoft Word when writing up school reports — to see how highbrow their writing was.)

grade level chart-01

Click to enlarge

Donald Trump is at the youngest end of the spectrum — averaging a fifth-grade level of vocabulary. And maybe that’s why he’s done so well in the polls: His simple, straightforward talk has resonated with the electorate. The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

But the competition isn’t all that great. On the other extreme end we have Ted Cruz. He was a high school valedictorian and has degrees from Princeton and Harvard. Cruz was talented enough to be Texas solicitor general, meaning he represented the state in oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even with those kinds of credentials, he’s averaging only a ninth-grade level in the debates. And yet that grade is more advanced than anybody else on the stage.

That leaves us with one candidate speaking at a high school level, another speaking for elementary schoolers — and everybody else clustered in middle school. And these middle schoolers include a former major corporate CEO and a former neurosurgeon.

Easy speech. Small sentences. Short words. No big words. That’s the key.

At future debates, expect to hear things like this:

“This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China.”

And …

“We’ll find solutions. And the world will respect us. They will respect us like never before.”

Here’s why: Complicated speech doesn’t necessarily help anybody in the polls. There is no value in being over people’s heads, especially if you are trying to win their emotions. As we have described here before, voter support is driven entirely by emotions, not at all by facts.

Political dialogue wasn’t always this low. Over time, the level of speech has become simpler. Reports have shown that presidential speeches before 1900 were often graded for a college audience, a level of oratory reached only once since 1950: Richard Nixon’s remarks on his re-election in 1972.

An analysis by researchers at the University of Minnesota showed President Barack Obama’s first three State of the Union addresses had an average grade level of 8.4, the lowest in the study.

“Each of Obama’s three addresses are among only seven of 70 in the modern era that were written shy of a ninth-grade level,” the author wrote, “and among the six that have averaged less than 17 words per sentence.”

Contrast these grade levels to the Federal Reserve’s statement on monetary policy Wednesday. The grade level for that was 17. In other words, one year into graduate school. And of course, there is a pretty clear consensus that Fedspeak is a lot more dense than what you hear out of presidential candidates.

Researchers have also suggested that lowering the bar of political rhetoric is not necessarily a bad thing. That’s because it brings the language of politics from the educated elite to the masses, making the system itself more democratic.

Even if those masses include 10-year-olds.

The Flesch-Kincaid readability tests categorize written text based on sentence and word length. Long sentences and many multisyllabic words earn a high grade level, short sentences and monosyllabic words get lower grade levels. The grade level given corresponds to U.S. grade levels. The Big Crunch used R’s koRpus package for this analysis.


They just can’t help themselves. Even in the aftermath of the Great Moderator Massacre last Wednesday, CNBC is still trying to get in their shots. Trying to diminish the Republican candidate’s intelligence by implying that they can’t communicate to the public in anything but an elementary school level is ludicrous. When speaking to the general public, it’s common knowledge that you must communicate in words and sentences that the public can understand. The general public are not composed of geniuses like the three moderators (as they would have us believe). The Flesch-Kincaid readability tests are built into Microsoft Word and can be included and checked on any Word document. It is interesting to note the following facts regarding the Flesch-Kincaid analysis:

1. The Flesch-Kincaid readability tests are NOT designed to apply to speech, ONLY WRITING. That is why they are called readability tests. Apparently our genius-level moderators didn’t know that.
2. The grade levels are used as a gauge. They do not necessarily reflect the actual grade level of the content.
3. Most mainstream publications, for instance Time magazine, strive for a median grade level of 9.

I’ve used the Flesch-Kincaid stats myself when writing white papers or composing advertising. You don’t do yourself any favors (and it may be detrimental) to write copy that goes over the heads of your “audience” – you have to communicate at a level your audience can understand. For example, I just checked this commentary (not the article) and it is rated at 10.6, but I’m writing for readers who I know are smarter than the average low-information voter.



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15 Responses to Another snarky attempted put-down by CNBC

  1. Hardnox says:

    The elitist assholes are really reaching insomuch that lefties can hardly read at all yet they possess the temerity to attack our side.

    The left is in a death spiral and they are beginning to finally realize that reality.

    Music to my ears.

    • Garnet92 says:

      Like some others, I believe that we’re witnessing an open rebellion against the GOPe. It just may be a watershed event that changes forever the Republican Party. That may sound too dramatic, but it started with Donald Trump and came to a head at the CNBC debate and the establishment arm of the party may never be the same (Thank God).

  2. Kathy says:

    One helping of humiliation Wed. night wasn’t enough, so they came back for seconds with this piece, and they’re still dead wrong on numerous points.

    They failed to see that the Federal Reserve piece was intentionally written at a level 17 so fewer people would understand it. The fewer that understand it, the fewer the questions. They want to be ignored. Nothing to see here…

    They’re also wrong about voter support being driven entirely by emotions and not at all by facts. Sure emotions play a part, but facts are a huge factor. We look at voting records, work ethics, leadership history, etc. and those all fact based.

    What they left out of this piece is an analysis of Hillary’s writings or speeches as a comparison. Convenient, but not overly clever.

    • Garnet92 says:

      Actually, if I can find the time, I’ll grab a portion of one of Hillary’s speeches and run it through the analysis and see what pops out. I’ll guarantee that it has to be down at a 7 level or below. Just look at her constituency.

  3. CW says:

    I guess “College-level speaking” leftist code for lies and ‘nuances’ that liberals love to use.

    • Garnet92 says:

      You broke the code, CW. It all depends on whether the speaker/writer wants the audience to understand what’s said/written or whether the goal is to impress the dumbasses with 35-cent words to feign intelligence.

  4. I.R. Wayright says:

    When the erudite illucidate it truly is a marvel,
    with P.C speech and liberal lies,
    they’re still as dumb as Carville.

  5. Bullright says:

    Great going CNBC. Makes the Squawk Box sound like 6th graders.

    Perfect analysis Garnet. Now that is saying something. I honestly do not believe Obama’s speeches are above 7th grade level (and below 6th sometimes) When there are 30 second responses, what do you want? They really had to stretch to go there. That means Bernie Sanders must be on a 4 yr old level. .

    • Bullright says:

      Hey Garnet, wake me up when they get to the logic test.

    • Garnet92 says:

      I concur Bull.

      BUT – I just ran the second page of Obama’s speech to the Congressional Black Caucus on Sept. 19, 2015 and got a grade of 8.5. So, I guess my natural assessment of Obama’s speeches may be colored by my dislike for the shithead president.

      Logic? Surely you jest? The left can’t even spell logic, much less apply it to anything.

  6. vonMesser says:

    The general American public can’t handle anything over about 5 or 6 grade.

  7. tannngl says:

    Compound-Complex sentences with multiple subordinate clauses and independent clauses can be unclear in meaning. This Flesch-Kincaid analysis of writing sounds like gobblety-gook. Communication is meant to be clear.

    Interesting article, Garnet. What idiots CNBC journalists are.

    • Garnet92 says:

      While the Flesch-Kincaid analysis may be gobbledy-gook, it is widely used and that’s why it’s included in Microsoft Word. I have found it helpful when writing stuff for the general public because, as you say, for communication to work, it needs to be clear – and that generally means simple.

      CNBC wasn’t satisfied to have publicly exposed themselves as partisan hacks, they doubled-down by continuing to write demeaning articles and make appearances on TV shows to reinforce the public’s opinion that they were indeed – IDIOTS. They refused to quit while they were behind.