The reading grade level of convention speeches, ranked.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press and ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Is your convention speech smarter than a 5th grader? Most likely, yes.

When the speakers took the stage in Cleveland and Philadelphia during this year’s convention, they tried to convince the millions of viewers that their candidate was the obvious choice for president. And to help get their message across, said political science professor Eric Ostermeier, their language tended to be simpler, with short sentences and words.

Of the 16 headline addresses the Globe analyzed — from the nominees, their families, running mates, and key figures in their party — the majority were spoken at a middle school level, according to the Flesch-Kincaid grade level test. The results showed US Senator Bernie Sanders delivered the highest-level speech, while Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton delivered the lowest-level speech of either convention.


Republicans spoke at a higher level, 8.1, than Democrats, who scored 7.4, the analysis showed.

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The Flesch-Kincaid test is a common algorithm that gives higher grade levels to texts that use longer words and sentences, which tend to be more complex. A similar analysis during the primary showed GOP candidate rhetoric starting at the 4th grade level and Democrats beginning at 7th grade.

“It is an important goal to need to communicate to as wide an audience as possible,” said Ostermeier, who researches at the University of Minnesota and has run analyses on candidate speeches. “So it isn’t particularly surprising that you would have speeches that are written at grade levels that on the surface sound very low.”

Indeed, Ostermeier said, speeches from the past five presidents have seen a general downtick in readability level — a phenomenon he attributes in part to the larger viewerships of speeches and events. And conventions, he said, tend to attract broader audiences and be “a little bit more of a rallying cry” than other speeches, such as the state of the union address.

Here’s a look at how the top speakers ranked on the grade-level test:



Melania Trump: 6.9

Melania Trump, Donald Trump’s wife, at first exceeded expectations with her speech extolling her husband’s loyalty and patriotism. But it soon became apparent that she had copied some lines from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech.

Her sentences on average had 15 words, and some of her longest words included “patriotism,” “determination,” and “underperforming.”

Ivanka Trump: 7.6

The Republican candidate’s daughter, who introduced Trump, painted her father as a successful businessman in a generally well-received speech. She averaged about 15.5 words per sentence, and one of her longer sentences was 40 words.


Donald Trump: 7.7

Trump conveyed a grim portrait of America in his speech accepting the Republican party’s presidential nomination. In previous off-the-cuff speeches, Trump has spoken at an elementary school level, but this time he was guided by a teleprompter. His sentences were 14 words long on average, and one of his longest words was “Americanism.”

Ted Cruz: 7.8

Cruz, in his controversial speech, refused to endorse his party’s nominee and told people to vote with their conscience. On average, Cruz’s sentences were 15.3 words, and some of his longest words included “emancipated” and “unprecedented.”

Tiffany Trump: 8.2

The recent University of Pennsylvania graduate briefly described memories of her father — such as his notes on her report cards in grade school — but, like other speakers, did not spend much time on Trump’s personal life. She averaged 19.9 words per sentence.

Mike Pence: 8.6

Pence, Indiana’s governor and Trump’s running mate, introduced himself to viewers and criticized Hillary Clinton for her foreign policies as secretary of state. He averaged 17.9 words per sentence, and one of his longest words was “unconstitutional.”

Donald Trump Jr: 8.7

The younger Donald Trump also, like many other speakers, described his father as a businessman and slammed the Democratic party’s policies over the past eight years. His sentences were, on average, 18.5 words, and one of his longest was 92 words.

Eric Trump: 9.6

The middle Trump son described how his father, a political outsider, defied predictions to become the Republican party nominee. Eric Trump averaged 19.3 words per sentence, and one of his longer words was “destabilization.”


Hillary Clinton: 5.7

When accepting the Democratic nomination, Clinton sought to end the convention on a note of party unity and urged voters to reject the policies of her opponent, Donald Trump. America is at “a moment of reckoning,” she said.

Clinton averaged 12.8 words per sentence, and one of her longest words was “constitutional.”

Tim Kaine: 6

In his speech, Clinton’s running mate introduced himself to viewers as a humble man who fought for the rights of underprivileged people, peppering his speech with Spanish.

Kaine averaged 12.2 words per sentence, and some of his longest words included “Underprivileged” and “autobiography.”

Elizabeth Warren: 6

Warren, who was at onetime vetted as a potential Clinton running mate, denounced wealthy corporations and blasted Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency.

Warren averaged 11.4 words per sentence, and some of her longest words included “discrimination.” “regulatory,” and “university.”

Chelsea Clinton: 6.3

Clinton’s daughter portrayed a more personal side of her mother, describing scenes from her own childhood.

Clinton’s daughter averaged 14.4 words per sentence, and one of her longest sentences was 36 words.

Bill Clinton: 7.3

Clinton described how he met his wife at Yale Law School and spoke of her resilience and patience as she followed him to Arkansas so he could pursue his own political career.

Clinton’s average words per sentence was 16.5, and one of his longest words was “counterterrorism.”

Barack Obama at 7.6

Obama, passing the torch to a new Democratic standard bearer, reflected on his years in the White House. He also painted a positive picture of America and described Clinton’s tenacity throughout her political career.

Obama averaged 16 words per sentence, and one of his longest words was “quintessentially.”

Michelle Obama: 9.5

Obama, in her well-received and largely apolitical speech, praised Clinton for her work with women and children, and said a woman president would be a role model for all children.

Her average words per sentence were 23.6, and one of her longest sentences was 87 words.

Bernie Sanders: 10.6

Sanders, Clinton’s top primary competition, threw his support behind the party’s nominee and urged his supporters to back her. He conceded they did not always agree, but that “she will make an outstanding president.”

He averaged 19.9 words per sentence, and one of his longest words was “acidification.”

Meg Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.