Wednesday, October 7, 2015

It's not just those misspelled tea party signs: conservative supporters are cultivated for their ignorance

Behold the dumbing down of America in the pandering of the right wing politicians looking for support from those who are less likely to be educated, or critical thinkers.

The grammar and spelling checker App, Grammarly, was used to evaluate the writing abilities of candidates for president in the 2016 election cycle.  The differences it showed between supporters of Democratic candidates and Republican candidates was striking and pronounced.

Let me stress, this was a politically neutral computer program, which should minimize bias. Think Progress, generally viewed as left leaning, should have used the Grammarly app themselves, as they made an error it would have corrected, in the first sentence.

WHY does this matter, you may be musing? Is this mere unimportant opportunity for snark? It matters because we think, we reason, and we persuade primarily in language.  There are deeper implications.

From Think Progress:
Bernie Sanders supporters might think you’re great, but Donald Trump supporters think your [sic] an idiot.
Grammar-wise, that’s at least what might be derived from a new analysis released Tuesday by the proofreading app Grammarly. By analyzing the spelling and grammar of comments on each presidential candidate’s Facebook page, the analysis found that Republican supporters made mistakes at nearly twice the rate of Democratic supporters.
To get their results, Grammarly went to each candidate’s Facebook page, taking comments that were at least 15 words long and expressed either positive or neutral feelings about the candidate. Then, researchers randomly selected at least 180 of those comments to analyze for each candidate.
The analysis — intended by Grammarly to be “a lighthearted look at how well the 2016 presidential candidates’ supporters write when they’re debating online” — found that, for every 100 words written, an average Democratic candidate supporter made 4.2 mistakes, while an average Republican candidate backer made 8.7 errors. It also asserted that Democratic supporters have larger vocabularies, using 300 unique words for every 1,000 words they use, compared to Republicans who only use only 245 unique words for every 1,000.

Politico back in mid-August analyzed Donald Trump as speaking like a 3rd grader.
Donald Trump isn’t a simpleton, he just talks like one. If you were to market Donald Trump’s vocabulary as a toy, it would resemble a small box of Lincoln Logs. Trump resists multisyllabic words and complex, writerly sentence constructions when speaking extemporaneously in a debate, at a news conference or in an interview. He prefers to link short, blocky words into other short, blocky words to create short, blocky sentences that he then stacks into short, blocky paragraphs.

The end result of Trump’s word choice is less the stripped-down prose style of Ernest Hemingway than it is a spontaneous reinvention of Ogden’s Basic English, the pared-down lexicon of 850 words selected by early 20th century linguist/philosopher C.K. Ogden as the bedrock of a new world language. In the August 6th Republican candidates debate, Trump answered the moderators’ questions with linguistic austerity. Run through the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level test, his text of responses score at the 4th-grade reading level. For Trump, that’s actually pretty advanced. All the other candidates rated higher, with Ted Cruz earning 9th-grade status. Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker scored at the 8th-grade level. John Kasich, the next-lowest after Trump, got a 5th-grade score.

Trump’s low grade at the debates wasn’t a fluke. His comments from an August 11 news conference in Michigan earned only a 3rd-grade score.

Flattening the English language whenever he speaks without a script, Trump relies heavily on words such as “very” and “great,” and the pronouns “we” and “I,” which is his favorite word. As any news observer can observe, he lives to diminish his foes by calling them “losers,” “total losers,” “haters,” “dumb,” “idiots,” “morons,” “stupid,” “dummy” and “ disgusting.” He can’t open his mouth without bragging about getting the Clintons to attend his wedding, about how smart he is, the excellence of his real estate projects, the brilliance of his TV show, his generous donations to other political campaigns and so on. In a freakish way, Trump resembles that of Muhammad Ali at his prime—except the champ was always kidding (even when he was right) while Trump seems to believe his claims (and often is wrong). Or perhaps he is afflicted with binary vision disorder, which renders all within his eyeshot either great or rotten.

Politico goes on to note this is a feature, not a bug.  I would argue it works well for reaching his desired base audience.  Politico goes on to note that part of Trump's success in business comes from his capacity to deceive.  I think we can conclude that is part of the strategy of every right wing candidate running this election cycle.  I would argue that it demonstrates the same appeal to emotional thinking that characterizes propaganda, in contrast to an appeal to rational, factual and logical thought.

I would go further and argue that this presents a distinct challenge to the function of representative government, when we let the emotional and ignorant drive the bus of government.  We do not function well as a nation when those who are anti-factual education, anti-intellectual achievement, and especially anti-science are setting the policies and funding priorities, and proposing failed ideology or superstitious religion as solutions to very real problems.

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