Part of Donald Trump’s success as a political candidate can surely be attributed to the fact that he speaks to the lowest common denominator. His message is simple, direct and repetitious and nowhere is this more apparent than in his debate rhetoric.
According to data compiled by About.com using two speech analyses indexes, Trump speaks at the lowest grade level of all the candidates during the debates. (Disclosure: About.com is a sister publication to The Daily Beast and also part of the IAC Publishing Group) Comparing his speech patterns to other candidates using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level, Trump scores a remarkably low 2.7, which in layman’s terms means that he speaks below the reading comprehension of a third-grade student. Most of his Republican competitors land somewhere between 5 and 7 on the scale, equating to 5th- and 7th-grade levels.
A test involving The Gunning Fog Index, which analyzes how often complex words are used in a sentence, reached the same conclusion. Trump landed at a Fog index of less than 8, which equates to “near-universal understanding.” His kind of speech—with short, forceful one-syllable words—is analogous to tweets, which says just about all you need to know.
The data analysis also arrived at the conclusion that Trump, with his Captain Underpants reading comprehension-level rhetoric, also talks the most in debates relative to other candidates. With the data adjusted based on how much candidates spoke in each debate compared to the expectation for equal speaking time, Trump won overall.
A value of 1.0 on the scale indicates that a candidate took a “fair” share of speaking time. Trump is almost at 1.4, which should come as no surprise given his seven-month battle to become the only voice that American audiences hear. Interestingly enough, though, Marco Rubio, the would-be nominee for the lingering clasped-hands establishment types, came in a close second to Trump. This could be attributed to the speed at which he talks, getting 10 words in for every one from lumbering lifelong debater Ted Cruz.
Rubio peaked in terms of the amount of words he used in a debate during the February 6th New Hampshire sparring match, which featured a moment that led to his nickname “MarcoBot.”
In the following debate, perhaps seeing that his speed might not be an asset, Rubio spoke a lot less. Yet in the most recent debate on February 25, one that could be counted as Rubio’s best, he spoke just as much as his primary competitor, Trump.
As one would expect, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a somnambulent presence in the primary, spoke the least of all candidates.
The public image which Trump has crafted for himself— big, brutish and bullying—is matched perfectly by his speech patterns in debates which themselves are a kind of peek into the whirring cogs behind the mogul’s straw-colored mop.
According to the data, the key to making America great again is to speak simply, loudly and often.