Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Do Politicians Talk Down To Their Audiences?


It seems so long ago that we started discussing how Trump's 3rd or 4th grade vocabulary has worked so well for him in the Republican primary. He wasn't kidding when he said "We love the poorly educated." His simple language resonated with the Republican Party masses. The other day, Grammarly came out with a study exploring how politicians talk and how voters respond.

They went back into political history to analyze how presidential candidates have communicated with the electorate and have come to the conclusion that "over time, politicians have been simplifying their language by speaking in less complex sentences" and that "simple language correlates with higher poll results for Republican politicians" but not with Democrats. The study evaluated the complexity of politicians’ language using seven different clarity algorithms, such as sentence length and passive voice.

Since 1960 politicians of both parties have been simplifying their language to reach larger (and less educated) audiences. In 1960, 12.3% of Kennedy's and 13.8% of Nixon's sentences were rated as "complex." By 1992, only 9.0% of Bill Clinton's and 4.3% of George H.W. Bush's sentences were rated "complex." 6.3% of the sentences spoken by both McCain and Romney were rated complex while Obama averaged 10.6% over the two elections. During this cycle's primary debates Republicans who used simpler language tended to poll higher, the opposite of the result in the Democratic debates and polling results. In other words, Republicans who spoke without nuance and with childish vocabulary were more appreciated by Republican voters and Democratic voters appreciated more complex language and abstract thought. Trump spoke in the simplest language, only 3.3% of his sentences containing any complex language, compared to 6.3% of the relatively scholarly (or pompous) Marco Rubio or the 5.5% for Ivy Leaguer Ted Cruz. Cruz was about tied with Bernie and Hillary led the pack (7.87% of her sentences contained complex language) and she led the polling averages among the Democrats while Trump led among the Republicans.

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