VP Debate Grade-level Ranking

Palin at 10 th Grade-level; Biden at 8th Grade-level


Palin’s use of passive voice highest of the 2008 Debates


Austin, Texas, USA.   October 3, 2008. The first and only vice presidential debate of the 2008 Campaign has resulted in Governor Sarah Palin, the republican nominee for vice president speaking at a 10th grade level, with Senator Joe Biden coming in at an 8th grade level.  Also noteworthy was the fact that Gov. Palin’s use of passive voice was the highest (at 8%) of the 2008 Presidential and Vice Presidential debates thus far.  The analysis was performed by The Global Language Monitor (www.LanguageMonitor.com), the Austin, Texas-based media analytics and analysis company.

GLM ranks the candidates’ speech on a number of levels from grade-reading level, the use of the passive voice, ‘a readability’ score (the closer to one hundred the easiest to understand, the number of words per sentence, even the number of characters per word. 

The statistical breakdown follows.

Vice Presidential Debate
Biden Palin Comment
Grade Level 7.8 9.5 Palin raises a few eyebrows here.
No. of Words 5,492 5235 This is a surprise; shows tremendous restraint on the normally loquacious Biden.  Obama used 20 more words per minute than McCain.
Sentences/Paragraph 2.7 2.6 A statistical tie.
Words/Sentence 15.8 19.9 Palin even outdistances professorial Obama on this one; Obama scored 17.4
Characters/Word 4.4 4.4 Everyone has apparently learned that shorter words are easier to understand (rather than monosylablic words facilitate comprehension).
Passive Voice 5% 8% Passive voice can be used to deflect responsibility;  Biden used active voice when referring to Cheney and Bush;  Palin countered with passive deflections.
Ease of Reading 66.7 62.4 100 is the easiest to read (or hear).


Notes:  The excessive use of passive voice can be used to obscure responsibility, since there is no ‘doer of the action’.  For example, ‘Taxes will be raised’ is a passive construction, while ‘I will raise (or lower) taxes’ is an active construction.  Five percent is considered average; low for a politician. 

By way of comparison, the ranking by grade-levels for historical debates follow.


Historical Contrasts Grade level
  Lincoln in Lincoln-Douglas Debates   11.2
  Joseph Lieberman   9.9
  Ronald Reagan   9.8
  John F. Kennedy   9.6
  Sarah Palin   9.5
  Richard Nixon   9.1
  Dick Cheney   9.1
  Michael Dukakis   8.9
  Bill Clinton   8.5
  Al Gore   8.4
  George W. Bush   7.1
  George H.W. Bush   6.6
  Ross Perot   6.3


The number of words is considered approximate, since transcripts vary.

The methodology employed is a modified Flesch-Kincaid formulation.


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