GOOD. BAD. STUPID. When it comes to his choice of words, Donald Trump keeps it simple.
So simple, in fact, that even a nine-year-old can get what the outspoken Republican White House hopeful is saying.
That’s according to a test developed for the US Navy that assesses the complexity of an English text by looking at sentence length and counting syllables.
When this Flesch-Kincaid method is applied to the opening and closing statements made during the last Republican debate, the GOP frontrunner takes the cake for poorest vocabulary among the nine contenders who faced off in Las Vegas on 15 December.
It reveals that a mere 7% of the words used by Trump in a minute and a half had more than three syllables, meaning that even children as young as nine or ten would have been able to understand him.
Trump caused astonishment this week by appearing to coin an obscene neologism – ‘schlonged’, derived from a Yiddish term for penis – to disparage his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton.
But the billionaire businessman typically favors basic, brief words such as ‘good’, ‘bad’, and ‘great’ for getting his point across on the campaign trail.
“If I’m elected president, we will win again. We will win a lot. And we’re going to have a great, great country, greater than ever before,” Trump promised at the end of the debate.
The tycoon sums up his foreign policy in equally simple terms, for instance describing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a “bad guy, very bad guy”.
Elaborate speeches deceptive?
“Donald Trump tries to reassure his audience by appealing to our elementary political instinct,” said Peter Lawler, a political science professor at Berry College and author of a book on American political rhetoric.
“He uses simple, repetitive words,” he told AFP.
“Some part of the population associates simplicity in rhetoric to honesty,” added Matthew Baum, a communications professor at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government.
They think that elaborate speeches are too deceptive.
The 69-year-old tycoon often employs the term ‘stupid’ to describe his rivals and the current government.
“We are being run by stupid people. I used to say incompetent. But stupid is really, you know, is the next stage,” he said earlier this month.
The real estate magnate’s campaign trail bombast – including extraordinary comments that stunned many observers – appears to have done him no harm in the polls as he solidifies the frontrunner status he has maintained since late July.
A new national CNN/ORC poll of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters has Trump leading with 39% support, more than twice that of his nearest competitor Senator Ted Cruz on 18%.
So how do Trump’s Republican rivals measure up when it comes to their lexicon?
The estimated age necessary for understanding the statements of other candidates at the last primary debate fluctuated between 11 years for senator Rand Paul and 15 years for fellow lawmaker Ted Cruz or retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
The share of words with more than three syllables in the statements of the other participants was 14% on average, double that for Trump.
Cruz used 24% of ‘complex’ words, while former Florida governor Jeb Bush used 15%.
“The other candidates study a lot before the debates, and their answers seem scripted,” Lawler said.
Trump says whatever he has in mind. But in my opinion he does that on purpose, he knows what he is doing.
The leader of the Republican pack used such simplistic rhetoric during the debate to touch on the so-called Islamic State group’s use of the internet.
“We should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where Isis is and everything about Isis,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the extremists.
And we can do that if we use our good people.
Lawler said it didn’t seem to matter to some potential voters that Trump lacks insight in some fields.
“There are some subjects where he has no knowledge at all, but people don’t seem to care,” he said.