Study proves Biden won debate by more than a full grade level

Hey, America: are your politicians stupid or do they just think you are? Check this new analysis of Thursday night’s “debate”:

An analysis carried out by a language monitoring service said Friday that Gov. Sarah Palin spoke at a more than ninth-grade level and Sen. Joseph Biden spoke at a nearly eighth-grade level in Thursday night’s debate between the vice presidential candidates.

Which proves my initial take right, I guess. It seemed pretty clear to me that Biden won – well, technically, I should say that Palin lost it, but let’s not split hairs. Since you can’t win a debate unless you communicate with your audience on their own level, we have to give the nod to Shoeless Joe, who was able to talk down to the crowd by more than a full grade level.

Granted, both have a long way to go if they ever hope to match the likes of Reagan or Bush. Ron never ventured higher than second-grade level, and in doing so only overwhelmed the average American’s intellect by a half grade or so. As best I can tell Bush has mastered the art of actually speaking at a lower level than the public.

The study also produced some other findings that ought to make America right proud of itself:

  • “The two candidates were nearly even in total number of words spoken. The normally voluble Biden restrained his tendency to ramble by uttering just 5,492 words during the 90-minute debate, versus 5,235 for Palin, Payack said.” As you can tell, the researchers see using fewer words as a good thing. Obviously – because all those words tend to confuse people.
  • “Newspapers are typically written to a sixth-grade reading level.” Which explains their declining readership – they need to dumb it down a little more make their publications more accessible.
  • “Letters per word: tied at 4.4.” Because “dumb” is a 4.4-letter word.
  • “Ease of reading: Biden, 66.7 (with 100 being the easiest to read or hear), versus 62.4 for Palin.”

We’ve certainly come a long way as a society, folks. Once upon a time brainiacs stalked the political landscape. Note this bit: “The analysis said Abraham Lincoln spoke at an 11th-grade level during his seven debates in 1858 against incumbent Stephen A. Douglas in their race for a Senate seat from Illinois.”

Citizens Consumers are occasionally impressed by people they can’t understand, figuring that it must mean the speaker is really smart. But in general the US has grown a lot less tolerant of that sort of uppity elitist horsewax, and rightfully so. Honest Abe may have bullshitted his way onto Rushmore, but if he were around today he’d have to speak to us on our terms. Short words, short sentences, and none of those complicated ideas like they throw around up to the college.

We’ve come a long way, baby. God bless America. Let freedom ring!


  • Bonesparkle,

    Tell me about the reading scale used. The one’s I’m familiar with use a 100 point scale, with 100 being the most difficult to read and comprehend. IRS pamphlets, usually the most complex documents used as measurement standards on this scale, come in at the mid 80’s -low 90’s.

    Oh, and explain to me if you will how not debating, just chirping talking points gives one credibility with anyone – except too many American voters who feel comfortable with someone at the helm who is as clueless as they. (Excuse my excellent grammar here.)

  • Jim,

    You seem a little uppity yourself this morning.

  • Of course they spoke at an eighth/ninth grade level. None of the candidates used any words from their vocabulary tests, like “pleonasm” or “uxorious”. Using those words (even using them wrong) would probably cause part of the electorate’s heads to explode.

  • Biden can easily speak at a more advanced level and Palin was almost over hers. In fact most of the things she said were easily identified as memorized talking points. She spoke from internal note cards where as Biden spoke from his brain.

  • Since Palin used more of a passive voice, which the service says deflects responsibility, it suggests she was considerably more evasive. However, the CNN article that originally reported this seemed biased because the headline will be interpreted by most that Palin is smarter than Biden because here sentences are more complex. However, since she was speaking to “Joe Six-Pack” it’s unclear whether she connected with that audience because as you wrote, some tend to relate to people they can’t understand. So those other Joe’s may be thinking “gosh darn, I couldn’t understand a word she said, but she’ll get my vote cuz sure sounded smart!”.

    So does this mean Sarah Palin is more “elitist”?

  • Phil: I’m afraid that’s something we have to consider, yes.

    By the way, what percentage of 9th graders can speak at the 9th grade level?

  • I like that the picture is not Sarah Palin. I like pictures. Words are hard. Easy is fun. What’s passive voice? Beer and TV time.

  • I say that Biden and Palin should hold another debate, but this time one with a spelling bee format, with words getting progressively harder, until we find out at what spelling level they both are. This should settle things.

    As far as Palin, I believe she nailed her Valley Girl persona perfectly. Sassy. Perky.You betcha. Fer shure. Clueless. (Hey, Wasilla’s in an Alaskan valley, isn’t it? I rest my case.)

  • Who is that woman in the picture?

    Who is “Bonesparkle”?

    Why should we care?

  • For those of you who enjoy (or even just get) the “Cthulhu ’08 – why settle for a lesser evil?” bumperstickers, check out this web comic.

    Don’t forget to look closely at the shuggoth….

  • Da Oracle,

    Yah der, sure, Wasilla is in a valley up der. But da valley girl culture revolved around goin to da mall and i’ll betcha dat Wasilla doesn’t have a mall. She represents a culture alright, but it ain’t dat one. I only say dis ’cause i know well da culture dat she represents, eh. I live in da closest thing to dat culture in da lower 48.

    My informal poll of people who can’t help but talk like she does suggests that she was layin’ it on extra thick der. Even da most backwoods among us don’t really talk like dat. And i’m talkin’ about a place where da stripclub offers tick checks instead of lap dances.

  • I agree that Biden won the debate on style—as well as substance!

    One problem with the study cited is that it assigned higher grades to more passive, convoluted sentences. Haven’t these folks ever heard of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White?

    The best way to use language is to clearly state what you mean to say—unless you have something to hide.

  • The problem with this analysis is that 4,965 of Palin’s 5,235 were “Maverick” …

  • I don’t understand what it is you said, but I think them debater people was real lucid. (Is that the right word? I got one of them thesaurses I found) I didn’t know the paper was six grade level. I feel impressive with myself after learning about that!


  • And… Susan nails it.

  • is filled with delusional McCain/Palin supporters who believe she “kicked Biden’s ass” during the debates.

  • Pingback: Scholars and Rogues » Lexical analysis of debates finds Obama and McCain startlingly similar

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