The speech First Lady Michelle Obama delivered at Tuesday night’s Democratic convention read at a twelfth grade level, according to an analysis by a University of Minnesota political scientist, making it, by that measure, the most complex speech delivered by a presidential candidate’s spouse at a nominating convention.
By contrast, the speech delivered by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, checked in at a fifth grade reading level. Romney’s speech marked the lowest reading level for a spouse’s convention speech since the practice first began in 1992, according to Eeic Ostermeier, the Minnesota political scientists.
Ostermeier reached his findings using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, a metric that rates sentence structure and difficulty of word use, and then computes numbers corresponding to grade levels to indicate how verbally advanced a given text is. For example, longer sentences and words score more points, while monosyllabic words score fewer points.
Based on that rubric, Obama’s speech posted the highest score, at 12.84, of any spouse’s convention speech since the practice began in 1992, topping her own previous high mark of 9.28—or a ninth grade reading level—she set with her speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention.
Rounding out the top five highest scoring speeches are Teresa Heinz Kerry’s 2004 speech (9.20) and Elizabeth Doles 1996 speech (8.51.)
While Mrs. Obama’s convention speech set a new high, her husband, President Obama, has delivered all three of his state of the union addresses at an eighth grade level.
Jon Terbush is a Boston-based writer whose work has appeared in Talking Points Memo, Business Insider, the New Haven Register, and elsewhere. He tweets about politics, cats, and baseball via @jonterbush.
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