The lack of complexity in President Obama’s recent speeches to college students suggests that they were stump speeches more suited for the presidential campaign than official government business, experts say.
Obama addressed the coeds at the Universities of North Carolina, Colorado, and Iowa at a sixth grade reading level, according to Flesch-Kincaid reading comprehension difficulty tests conducted by the Washington Free Beacon.
All three are swing states and young people were instrumental to Obama winning each of them in 2008. The timing and locations of the president’s remarks—which focused on student loan interest rates—sparked debate about whether they were campaign events or policymaking trips.
Measuring the complexity of each speech can help distinguish between the two, according to political rhetoric experts.
“You want short, punchy presentations when you’re campaigning rather than, say, an intricate defense of just war. You’re going to come out with different patterns on the Flesch scale,” said Fred I. Greenstein, a professor of politics emeritus at Princeton University.
Obama’s student loan remarks seemed to fit the bill for a campaign speech. According to the Flesch scale, which measures reading difficulty on a grade-level scale, Obama’s oratory has been on a steep decline from the 2008 campaign.
The college speeches represent a low point for Obama, who spoke to Europeans gathered in Berlin using 9th grade rhetoric.