Not the Thrilla in Manila, but Certainly Nasty in Nassau
Austin, TEXAS. October 17, 2012. The President Obama of yore (2008, that is) showed up at the debate last night and so was hailed the victor. In fact, the numbers show that it was not that Romney faltered. He did not. Rather it was the President who recovered from his first debate ‘debacle’ (as viewed by his strongest supporters).
The numbers reveal the story. First, keep this number in mind: 7.4. This is the grade level of Obama’s most widely hailed speech, the “Yes, We Can!” Grant Park victory speech. ’Yes, We Can!” is widely perceived as a classic to be enshrined in the American Oratory Hall of Fame along side Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream,” Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,’ and Ronald Reagan’s “City on a Hill” speeches.
In the first Presidential debate, Obama’s grade level came in at 9.2. For a debate, with all its give-and-take, interruptions, pauses and the like, that was a rather high number. A Town Hall meeting is definitely not the place for the grandiloquent turn of phrase, especially when you are trying to woo the undecided citizens of the land with plain speakin’ — no matter how uncomfortable that might be.
We all told in sixth grade that a newspaper should be written at the sixth-grade level, which from the sixth-grade perspective can be quite a challenge. What this really translates to is short sentences, concise paragraphs, fewer polysyllabic words, and all written in active voice.
As an example, Joe Biden spoke at a sixth grade level (6.1) in the vice presidential debate and there were few who claimed the inability to understand Ol’ Joe. (Unfortunately, these tests do not evaluate facial expressions.) In last night’s debate , Obama scored 7.2 in the grade-level score, about 28% lower (and in this case better) than his first debate — and nearly identical to his Grant Park discourse.
Both Romney and Obama cut their used of passive voice nearly in half from 6% to 4% and 3%, respectively. Active voice, where the subject is the doer of the action, is always preferred over passive voice in political discourse since it can be used to avoid responsibility. (‘Taxes were raised’ rather than ‘I raise raised the taxes.)
Finally, Obama’s reading ease score improved over 8% from 63.1 to 70.1; Romney’s remained a bit higher at 71.0.
In champion fights, the unwritten rule is that you never take the current champ’s crown away on — points unless the victory is overwhelming. Last night the President showed up to fight, and thus is awarded the victory on points. So the Presidential Debate series now stands even at 0ne all, with the rubber (and deciding) match to take place next week.