The Reading Level of the 2016 Debates vs. the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Annie Holmquist | April 20, 2016

The Reading Level of the 2016 Debates vs. the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

The 2016 election has been marked by contention and wild twists and turns. It has also been marked by a myriad of debates, in which candidates do their best to attack their opponents and set themselves apart from the pack.

In this respect, these debates are not much different from the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates which captivated audiences in the mid-1800s. In those debates, the first candidate would speak for an hour and his opponent would then speak for an hour and a half. The first candidate then received a half hour for rebuttal.

Because the debates sparked the interest and active participation of many from across the nation, it seems clear that the speeches of Lincoln and Douglas were well understood by the average American.

This is particularly interesting when one looks at the reading level of the debate text. When I ran the first Lincoln-Douglas debate transcript through Accelerated Reader’s text analyzer, I found that it registered at a mid 9th grade level (9.6).

For comparison’s sake, I also ran the first 2016 Republican and Democrat debate texts through the text analyzer. The results were 6.8 and 7.1 respectively, meaning that the readability level of each ranks around an early 7th grade level. That’s more than two grade levels below that of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, an event likely attended by “uneducated” farmers!

While today’s Americans pride themselves on being highly educated and enlightened, do these numbers tell a different story? Has the tendency toward an easier reading diet both in school and in everyday life dulled many people’s ability to process and understand important concepts? And if so, are we likely to suffer severe consequences when it comes to elections and the future of our country?

Image Credit: Public Domain