Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University conducted a readability analysis of presidential candidate speeches, finding most candidates using words and grammar typical of students in junior high school (grades six through eight).
The analysis took place before the race had been narrowed down to two candidates. The researches performed a historical review of speeches given by five candidates: Republicans Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The analysis also showed that all of the candidates began using simpler language as their campaigns progressed. The speeches of current politicians were also compared to politicians of yore, according to ScienceDaily.
Studying the reading level of campaign speeches is nothing new. A 2014 story by The Atlantic entitled Presidential Speeches Were Once College-Level Rhetoric—Now They’re for Sixth-Graders, asked “Are the presidents dumbing down? Or are their speechwriters smartening up?”
The article, however, makes a point of saying complex speeches aren’t always the way to go. Simple language has its place for politicians who want to inspire and/or who wish to empower their constituents, not to mention get their point across. As the Atlantic points out, “there is no chance you want presidential candidates talking like George Washington.”
President Washington, a politician whom history has enshrined, rendered speeches with sentences so dense that reading them now might feel like reading Shakespeare.
Here, the opening two lines of President Washington’s first inaugural address:
“Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourteenth day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years: a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time.”