The Washington Free Beacon has done an analysis of President Obama’s speeches using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test (this is a standard, objective measure used to estimate the education level needed to comprehend the material):
Since taking office, Obama has routinely spoken to the American people in a more simplistic manner than his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Obama’s State of the Union addresses peaked at a 10th grade level in 2009 and declined to an eighth-grade level by 2012. Bush, on the other hand, scored consistently above the 10th grade level with his State of the Union addresses, including a high of 11.84 for his 2005 address.
Bush’s appeal for his signature tax cuts was delivered at a higher level of complexity than Obama’s argument for their repeal.
The former president’s June 2001 signing statement was at a 10th grade level, compared with the seventh grade level at which Obama spoke in 2010. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” State of the Union speech, given in 2002 and derided by academic critics as overly simplistic, was delivered a full grade level above Obama’s lauded 2002 “dumb war” oration.
Moreover, Obama’s rhetoric has been getting simpler over time:
Obama’s major campaign addresses and writings consistently came in above his presidential speeches. Obama’s rhetoric peaked in his 2008 speech on race relations during the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy; the speech was at a 12th grade level. The oratory matched Obama’s literary prowess. His second bestseller, The Audacity of Hope—a title borrowed from a Wright sermon—was written at an 11th grade level and fell slightly below the Flesch score of the Gettysburg Address.
Following his September 2009 health care address, delivered at a ninth grade level, Obama began using more and more simplistic language when addressing the American people.
In the past two years, Obama’s major national addresses have fluctuated between grade seven (Gabriel Giffords; September jobs speeches) and grade eight (his April 11, 2012 remarks on the Buffett Rule).
In his re-election campaign, Obama has not returned to the rhetoric of his first campaign. His recent speeches to college students were measured at a sixth-grade level.
POSTSCRIPT: During the Bush administration, there was a stream of academics who claimed to analyze President Bush’s writings or speeches and prove he was a moron. This differs in two ways. First, the analysis doesn’t claim to measure Obama’s intelligence, just the complexity of his discourse. Second, it’s a standard, objective measure dating to 1975, so it wasn’t rigged to deliver a desired outcome.