Via Smart Politics: "My Message is Simple": Obama's SOTU Written at 8th Grade Level for Third Straight Year. Excerpt:
For the third consecutive State of the Union Address, Barack Obama spoke in clear, plain terms.
And for the third straight Address, the President's speech was written at an eighth-grade level.
In Obama's own words: "My message is simple."
But was it too simplistic?
A Smart Politics study of the 70 orally delivered State of the Union Addresses since 1934 finds the text of Obama's 2012 speech to have tallied the third lowest score on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, at an 8.4 grade level.
Obama also delivered the second lowest scoring address in 2011 (at an 8.1 grade level) and the sixth lowest in 2010 (at an 8.8 grade level).
The Flesch-Kincaid test is designed to assess the readability level of written text, with a formula that translates the score to a U.S. grade level. Longer sentences and sentences utilizing words with more syllables produce higher scores.
Shorter sentences and sentences incorporating more monosyllabic words yield lower scores.
Smart Politics ran the Flesch-Kincaid test on each of the last 70 State of the Union Addresses that were delivered orally by presidents before a Joint Session of Congress since Franklin Roosevelt.
Excluded from analysis were five written addresses (by Truman in 1946 and 1953, Eisenhower in 1961, Nixon in 1973, and Carter in 1981) and two addresses that were delivered orally, but not by the President himself (Roosevelt in 1945 and Eisenhower in 1956).
The vast majority of State of the Union speeches were delivered in writing prior to FDR.
Each of Obama's three addresses are among only seven of 70 in the modern era that were written shy of a 9th grade level, and among the six that have averaged less than 17 words per sentence.
Obama's 2012 and 2010 addresses averaged 16.6 words per sentence with his 2011 address coming in at 16.8.
Other low-scoring addresses on the Flesch-Kincaid scale over the decades are George H.W. Bush's 1992 address, Harry Truman's 1951 and 1952 addresses, and Lyndon Johnson's 1965 address.
Obama's speeches are a continuation of a general pattern that finds as State of the Union Addresses have perhaps become more and more political, they have been written more and more simplistically.
This seems to me to be misplaced anxiety. As I've often commented, the King James version of the Book of Ecclesiastes is at the third-grade level of readability. But no one complains that it's "simplistic."