In the News

The Fog Index and Republican Candidates

By Craig Kirchoff

There’s this formula.  They call it the Fog Index.

The Fog Index takes a bunch of text analyzes the number of words per sentence, the amount of complex words (containing three or more syllables), and some other variables, and then gives you the level of education your audience should have to fully grasp the message.  In other words, a Fog Index of 8, means that you’re speaking or writing to people on an 8th grade level.

Still with me?  Good.

So we thought it might be interesting to take the first answer of each of the Republican candidates in the June 13th debate (using the CNN transcript), run them through this Fog Index Calculator and see at which grade level the candidates were speaking.

Here’s what we found, in the order of their answers:

  • Herman Cain – 8.614
  • Rick Santorum – 13.87
  • Tim Pawlenty – 10.26
  • Mitt Romney – 10.82
  • Newt Gingrich – 14.00
  • Ron Paul – 12.07
  • Michele Bachmann – 11.32

And just for comparison we took a few random paragraphs from President Obama’s June 3rd speech in Toledo, Ohio and ran them through the same Fog Index Calculator.  His score was Junior in High school-ish 11.68

There are a million reasons why you shouldn’t take these numbers too seriously.  First, the Fog Index isn’t hard science.  Secondly, the sample size of one answer or a few paragraphs isn’t enough to characterize someone’s communication – their next answer or a speech later that week may have been twice as complex.  And lastly, speechwriters spend a lot of time figuring out how to convey complex ideas in the simplest way possible, so a high Fog Index score might not be a good thing in a political debate.

But, despite all that, it’s a new, fun way to rate the candidates.

Picture: By arz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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