Monday, October 11, 2004

Proof That High School Was a Waste of Time 

Courtesy of the uniquely soothing Zenblog What Alice Found: Dr. Robert Beard analyzes the second Bush-Kerry debate using the the Flesch Reading Ease Index, the Gunning-Fog Readability Index, and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Index, tests designed to measure the complexity and clarity of a verbal presentation based on the number of words per sentence and syllables per word:
Bush painted a much more dangerous world than Kerry and his response to it is decisiveness: he used the word 'decision' 16 times last night to Kerry's five mentions. Both candidates talked equally about war (17 times each) and Iraq (13 times each), but their word choice shows differences in the ways they talked about these subjects. Bush mentioned Hussein 13 times, Kerry, only four but Kerry brought up Osama bin Laden four times to Bush's two, as they jockeyed around Bush's strengths and weaknesses.

Bush prefers to depict the war, too, in more dire terms. He used the following words: destruction (10 times to Kerry's five), terrorists (14 times to Kerry's five), weapons (19 times to Kerry's eight), weapons of mass destruction (nine times to Kerry's four), and threat (13 times to Kerry's six).

Kerry, on the other hand, wanted to make clear that he 'has a plan': Kerry repeated 'I have a plan' 15 times (Bush 0), in response to criticisms that he is indecisive and easily swayed from policy agendas for political reasons . . . .

While trying to appear decisive last night, Kerry also made a marked effort to "dumb down" his remarks. On the campaign trail, the Democratic candidate's speeches have recently shown a grade level range of 9.4 to 11.1 (compared with Bush's 8.6 to 10th grade level). At last night's debate, Kerry scored well beneath that range, joining President Bush in the 7th grade at 7.3.

The president clearly focused on his presentation style - apparently in acknowledgement of the widely held consensus that the first debate on September 30 in Miami went to Kerry. Compared with that debate, George W. Bush moved up one public school grade level, from 6.8, to join Kerry at 7.3, about a third into the seventh grade.

Kerry, however, pulled out slightly ahead of Bush in terms of reading ease. On the Flesch Reading Ease Index, a measure of verbal clarity, the Democratic senator scored 65.7 while the president scored only 64.7 -- an advantage, but not much of one.

To understand Kerry, a viewer would need to have nearly an 8th grade education, while Bush could get across to those just shy of the 7th grade. According to the Gunning-Fog Index*, an indication of the number of years of education required to understand a paragraph, Kerry scored at 7.9, while Bush scored a 6.8.

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