Presidential Debates 2020: “The Kindergarten President”

Back in 2016, I wrote a post about the presidential debates in 2016 between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, comparing their linguistic styles in the debates. Now in 2020, it’s time to revisit the analysis and see what has changed.


To better assess how much they have said, I divided the debate in speech events, the time both candidates spoke without being interrupted. A dialog consists of several ones following each other. The following table shows length statistics for both candidates. The length is measured in the number of characters.

Metric Trump 2020 Biden 2020 Trump 2016 Clinton 2016
Number 314 250 315 221
Mean 124.3 139.7 381.4 472.4
Max 1037 1077 2,705 2,378

The following table gives insights about the lexical diversity of the candidates’ speech events and the average length of words and sentences to compare both candidates’ speeches on a more linguistic level.

Metric Trump 2020 Biden 2020 Trump 2016 Clinton 2016
Number of words 8,681 7664 26,616 21,801
Average word length 3.65 3.79 3.66 3.90
Average sentence length 11.73 12.84 13.5 18.8
Lexical diversity 8.24 7.06 15.03 10.63

A lexical diversity of 1 means that every word is used only once. A higher lexical diversity means that words are reused very often.


A standard way of comparison is computing the readability of two texts. There are plenty of readability measures available and each of them has its strengths and weaknesses. Hence, I decided to compare the two candidates according to a range of five readability measures. Keep in mind that the readability highly depends on the type of text. Transcripts of speeches usually have a lower value for readability than written text. The higher the value, the more complicated the text is. Some correlate the value of the readability measure to the grade level. This comparison is not entirely correct but makes the value much easier to interpret.

Readability in terms of six measures
Readability according two five measures

The radar graphic shows that the complexity of Trump’s and Biden’s speeches according to several readability measures. The thinner line in the center shows the readability of speeches in the 2016 presidential debates.

The complexity of Trump’s contributions is very similar to 2016 and overall very low. In 2016, Clinton’s readability was compared to Trump 2016 rather higher. We see that Joe Biden has adapted to Trump’s style and uses shorter sentences and words, leading to a very similar complexity as Trump 2016.

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