CMU: Most Presidential Candidates Speak at Grade 6-8 Level; Trump lowest

A readability analysis of presidential candidate speeches by researchers in Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute
(LTI) finds most candidates using words and grammar typical of students
in grades 6-8, though Donald Trump tends to lag behind the others.

I wasn’t especially surprised to hear this. Aside from the fact that it’s well known that e.g. newspapers aim for a fairly low “readability” score, it seems obvious that the way politics and the 24 hour media cycle work these days, political candidates are going to try to convey even complex policy ideas in simple, concrete terms that are easily digested and easily quoted.

I was a little surprised to hear that presidential candidates’ readability levels top out below the level of TV Guide and Reader’s Digest.



This has been going around for a while this year, and it also comes up again every few years.

Have any experience in public speaking? I do. Complex sentences with dependent clauses don’t work well. Using your big vocabulary words also isn’t a very effective technique. All great public speakers speak at a pretty low grade level, because short, simple sentences are strong technique.

Want some nice, complex speechifying? Read any of the great political speeches of the 19th century. Read the Gettysburg Address. Powerful words, but out loud it’s mouthful after mouthful of needlessly flowery words. For better or for worse, Ernest Hemingway changed the way we write and speak, and it seems like it’s permanent.


I am reminded of George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language

in particular

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Trump has plenty of faults, but speaking in a way that more people understand him isn’t one of them. His message is the problem (see rule vi.), not the way he says it.


Trump has the best words.


Maybe he uses only the best words? That could explain the low vocabulary score. Watch for the forthcoming Trump® Dictionary

You can’t have your best words and use them.

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Truly fantastic words. The winningest.

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And here I was thinking that CMU was Chiang Mai University…

I would have been impressed if most presidential candidates were speaking Thai at a Grade 6-8 level. :wink:

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More elegant words from a more civilized age:

They did a whole series of these things in 1968.

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The other candidates may use grade 6-8 language in their speeches, but they don’t actually sound like 6th graders.

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