Trolling comments on presidential candidates’ Facebook pages in search of grammatical errors is a task that will get Strunk and White devotees’ eyes rolling. At least the search for typos, misplaced or missing apostrophes, unnecessary capital letters and redundant exclamation points bears fruit in seconds:
Hillary Rodham Clinton: “Youre The Inspiration to every Citizen Of The World.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): “Best way to campaign for him is to share him with on social network and also share him with people face to face.”
Ben Carson: “Im British and living permanently in the US with my American wife and son. I dont have a vote but if i did, I would vote for Ben Carson.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): “Rubio will be president he is the most inteligent when it comes to foreign afairs and matters of state.”
But amid this flawed, headache-inducing verbiage, there is a pattern. So says Grammarly, a private, San Francisco-based company behind what’s billed as “the world’s leading automated proofreader.” The company analyzed comments on 19 presidential candidates’ Facebook pages and found that: 1) supporters of Republican candidates make more mistakes than supporters of Democrats; 2) supporters of Republican candidates use fewer unique words than supporters of Democrats; and 3) Donald Trump supporters made the most mistakes of them all.
“Whoever your pick for POTUS, one thing’s certain — political topics inspire passionate discussions,” the company wrote in a blog post. “With a light heart and heavy-hitting algorithms, we visited each candidate’s official Facebook page and looked at the comments there to see how well their supporters handle themselves when they communicate their ideas in writing.”
Grammarly had pulled this trick before, scrutinizing Republican supporters ahead of the first GOP presidential debate in August. Now, ahead of the first Democratic debate this month, the company looked at that party’s supporters, and summarized all of its findings in this handy chart:
Democratic supporters, Grammarly found, make 4.2 mistakes per 100 words, while Republican supporters made 8.7 mistakes per 100 words — and supporters of any Democrat made fewer mistakes than supporters of any Republican (with the exception of supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Carly Fiorina, who were tied in their number of mistakes per 100 words, according to Grammarly). Lincoln Chafee may not be polling well, but his supporters generate the cleanest copy, making just 3.1 errors per 100 words. Trump supporters, however, make more than four times as many errors: 12.6 per 100 words, putting them well behind Rick Santorum supporters, who make 11.5 mistakes per 100 words.
Some representative errors from Trump’s Facebook page:
Sentence fragment: “The only presidential candidate that’s not owned by a donor and the only one that speaks the TRUTH, the man of honor that works for America without the need for a paycheck, Donald J. Trump.”
Capitalization problems, unorthodox use of ellipsis, extra exclamation points, incorrect use of “of”: “Donald trump president of 2016… To the White House he goes!!!! Make America great again!!!”
Capitalization problems, missing comma, missing quotation marks: “Mr. Trump Remember: Whoever is trying to bring you down is already below you. I LOVE that quote!”
Trump occasionally gets in on the action himself. On Monday, with no regard for proper use of the beloved em dash, he tweeted: “Crooked @club4growth has given up advertising in Iowa on me — remember they wanted my million dollars — I said no — total frauds!”
For those who may wish to challenge Grammarly’s findings, here’s the full methodological report:
We began by taking a large sample of Facebook comments containing at least fifteen words from each candidate’s official page between April, 2015 and August, 2015. Next, we created a set of guidelines to help limit (as much as possible) the subjectivity of categorizing the comments as positive or negative. Since the point of the study was to analyze the writing of each candidate’s supporters, we considered only obviously positive or neutral comments. Obviously negative or critical comments, as well as ambiguous or borderline negative comments, were disqualified.
We then randomly selected at least 180 of these positive and neutral comments (~6,000 words) to analyze for each candidate. Using Grammarly, we identified the errors in the comments, which were then verified and tallied by a team of live proofreaders. For the purposes of this study, we counted only black-and-white mistakes such as misspellings, wrong and missing punctuation, misused or missing words, and subject-verb disagreement. We ignored stylistic variations such as the use of common slang words, serial comma usage, and the use of numerals instead of spelled-out numbers.
Finally, we calculated the average number of mistakes per one hundred words by dividing the total word count of the comments by the total number of mistakes for each candidate.
The liberal Web site ThinkProgress, perhaps unexpectedly, pointed out that this game is a bit weighted in Democrats’ favor.
“Of course, there was more room for error on the Republican side, which has nearly three times as many candidates,” Emily Atkin wrote. “In addition, many Republican candidates have a lot more Facebook supporters, meaning the pool from which Grammarly’s researchers picked its 180 comments was much larger.”
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