Does Donald Trump Really Speak at a Fourth Grade Level?

There were a number of articles that made the claim that Donald Trump spoke at a fourth grade level. They made this determination by running the different candidates presidential announcement speeches through the Flesch–Kincaid readability test. The problem with using a prepared speech is that there’s a good chance that a speech isn’t how the candidates actually talk. There’s even a good chance the speech was written by a speech writer instead of the candidate. A better way to determine the speaking level of the candidates would be to analyze them talking in a non-speech setting.

To do this, I decided to run the GOP’s last debate (March 10, 2016 in Florida) through our word counter using this transcript to see the speaking level of each candidate. WordCounter uses the Dale–Chall readability formula to determine reading level.

It should be noted there are some limitations to the speaking level designations found below. The Dale–Chall readability formula gives a general approximation to the candidates’ speaking level, but it isn’t conclusive. The candidates likely move among levels depending on where and when they are speaking. This was also a single debate where many of the topics use words outside the 3,000 core words that are the foundation of the formula. If the candidates were speaking about everyday events, their speaking level could be much lower than was found in this debate.

These were the results:

Donald Trump Speaking Level

Donald Trump speaking level

Donald trump ended up with a 7th to 8th grade speaking level which is better than a 4th grade level, but it was still the lowest of the four candidates. He also spoke the most words during the debate (5,520), but used the fewest number of unique words (933). Ted Cruz spoke the fewest number of words (3,831), but had 70 more (1,003) unique words than Trump. John Kasich had almost the same number of unique words (940) as Trump, but spoke over 1,500 fewer words than Trump did during the debate.

Ted Cruz Speaking Level

Ted Cruz speaking level

Ted Cruz spoke the fewest number of words during the debate (3,831), but had the highest speaking level (11th to 12th grade) of the four candidates. The length of his sentences were also the longest at 16 words (tied with Kasich).

John Kasich Speaking Level

Kasich speaking level

John Kasich just barely spoke more words than Cruz during the debate. He had 3,852 words compared to 3,831 for Cruz. These were both over 1,600 words fewer than Trump. Kasich’s speaking level came in between Trump on the low end and Cruz at the high end with a 9th to 10th grade level.

Marco Rubio Speaking Level

Marco Rubio speaking level

Marco Rubio ended up speaking the second highest number of words during the debate. He clocked in with 4,969 which was 551 words fewer than Trump. He, like Kasich, ended up with a mid speaking level at 9th to 10th grade.

Even though these stats show Trump uses higher than a 4th grade speaking level when his speeches aren’t prepared, he does speak like a junior high school student while all the other candidates he’s running against speak at a high school level.

  • It just proves that Donald speaks to the average American while everybody else tries to pretend to be more educated and superior. The USA needs someone who is average and everybody can understand. Trump 2016!!!!

    • The average American voter has completed high school and 30% completed college. Talking to us at an 8th grade vocabulary level is talking down to us. And that’s not even counting Trump’s incredible liberties with basic grammar and coherency. He talks in catchphrases, quips, and incomplete, rambling thoughts.

    • Because everyone wants to hire an average intellect for the highest position in the land. Make America Average Again!!!! Yay for stupid people

  • Trump is the one and only candidate who can make us great again. Everyone else is a loser and a hater. If you want the US to be great again, you must vote or Donald Trump!!!!

    • Donald trump is a jackass and is what’s wrong with our country. If you think he’ll make the US great again, then you are in for a rude awakening. He’ll make America into the laughing stock of the world while ensuring the long term decline of this great nation. be careful what you hope for…

  • Is this really a surprize? I would think everyone could see this without having to do any research about it. Just listen to Trump’s speeches and the way he talks on the TV.

    • Take the time to listen to Trump speak and Obama speak. People seem to think that trump is a good speaker, but he’s terrible. He just shouts and spurts out stream of thought BS…

  • Donald Trump is the embodiment of everything that is wrong in this country. The mere fact that he can be at the top of the GOP list of presidential candidates is a sorry reflection of what the Republican Party has become. If he does become president of the United States, it will be one of the worst decisions this country has ever made. It’s a sad, sad time to be a Republican.

  • It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump speaks at a first grade lever, a second grade level, a third grade level or a fourth grade level. He’s going to make America great again, and everyone understands that!!

    • It’s sentiment like this that’s going to do the exact opposite of making America great again. Let’s be honest here. Donald Trump is nothing more than a charlatan playing on people’s fears. He exists because of our obsession with reality TV, and that’s not a good thing. He thrives by dividing which is the polar opposite of what America is. Fear has become far too common in America and that’s the one thing that America should never be — afraid.

  • It’s a sad state of affairs when the GOP thinks that Trump is an acceptable choice for president. He would be the worst president ever. #NeverTrump

    • Trump is the only person standing in the way from us becoming a socialist paradise where Hillary takes away all of our freedomes. If you love the USA, you vote for Trump. If you hate the USA and Christians, you vote for Hillary. There are only those two choices. #AlwaysTrump

  • God help us if Trump actually becomes president. I now understand why scams are all over the Internet…people fall for them. Anyone who who thinks Trump is anything but a scammer are the exact people who the scammers are looking for. It’s just sad…

  • I can’t wait for this election to be over so we no longer have to hear anything from Trump again. He’s had far more than his 15 minutes than he deserves.

  • Agree with the premise: Trump’s vocabulary is SO bad, believe me! But sorry, any site that doesn’t make the necessary distinction between “less” and “fewer” (should be “fewer” words, etc., not “less” words”), I’ll tell you the truth, jus doesn’t have much credibility.

  • Not only does he speak like a child, he acts like a child. How we ever let him become president is beyond me. We have a child president!

  • Today i checked my specking level and it was 9th to 10th grade! and I’m only in 6th grade! Who knew?

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