CNBC Rates Grade Level of GOP Candidates' Speech Patterns; Childish Moderators Not Taken Into Account

October 29th, 2015 3:50 PM

It would appear that CNBC isn't going to take the criticism of its debate panelists' awful conduct last night lying down.

In what appears to be an all too predictable immature response to the dressing-downs several Republican presidential candidates administered to certain of their moderators as a result of their juvenile behavior and insulting questions — particularly John Harwood and Carl Quintillana — the network has rushed out ratings of the top ten GOP candidates' speech patterns during the first three debates, with an obvious undertone: Ignore these candidates; they're just a bunch of dummies.

Setting the sniping and the inherent weaknesses of grade-level determinations aside, CNBC's Eric Chemi and Nicholas Wells must not realize that their critique ends up being a savage indictment both of the decay of the country's education system during the past 100 or so years — years during which the left has exercised ever-increasing control of education at all levels — and of how the left-controlled press has used the television age not to inform but to instead incite emotional reactions.

The title of the chart below betrays condescending, blatantly obvious, in-your-face bias:

College-level speaking not required at the GOP debates

(By the way, college-level speaking isn't seen in Democratic Party candidates' speeches either; but CNBC won't let troublesome facts get in the way of a desperate hit job — Ed.)

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.)

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.

... 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.

Political dialogue speech patterns have descended into lower grade levels because the average voter today is nowhere near as literate as the average voter 100 years ago. How many times have we (mostly accurately) heard that today's college graduate is no smarter than high school graduates were several decades ago? "Progressives" have largely controlled the educational system for decades, and here we are. The Republican candidates are speaking to voters at their level — and that's apparently the candidates' fault.

Additionally, if "voter support is (now) driven entirely by emotions, not at all by facts" (speak for yourselves, CNBC), it's because television news has largely gone in that direction. The establishment press knows that once thought through, the progressive ideas which sound so good on paper and make people feel good about themselves for supporting them simply don't work. So the enterprise is about keeping people from doing that and convincing them to rely solely on their emotions.

The Obama comparison is bogus. Of course, a prepared State of the Union speech delivered with a teleprompter — especially necessary in the President's case, because he has demonstrated a consistent inability to speak well extemporaneously — is going to have higher-grade language than remarks made during a debate. But since we're on the subject, I should note that Mike Huckabee's and Ted Cruz's presidential candidacy launch speeches came in at grade levels of 9.9 and 9.5, respectively. Hillary Clinton's weighed in at 8.4. Bernis Sanders hit 10.3; socialists apparently don't care much about whether they're speaking over their audiences' heads.

Readers should also note for the record that, though it clearly could have done so, CNBC didn't break out the grade levels recorded in the three individual debates. It wouldn't surprise me, given that they were addressing immature, childish, mean-spirited moderators, if Wednesday night's candidate speech pattern level was lower than what was seen in the other two out of sheer necessity.

Cross-posted at