Congress now speaks at almost a full grade level lower than it did just seven years ago, with the most conservative members of Congress speaking on average at the lowest grade level, according to a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of the Congressional Record using Capitol Words.
Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress, others will see as more effective communications. And lawmakers of both parties still speak over the heads of the average American, who reads at between at 8th and 9th grade level.
Today’s Congress collectively speaks at a 10.6 grade level, down from 11.5 in 2005. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level. The Gettysburg Address comes in at an 11.2 grade level and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is at a 9.4 grade level. All these analyses use the Flesch-Kincaid test, which equates higher grade levels with longer words and longer sentences.
In looking at the data more closely, a few other important patterns jump out:
Controlling for other factors, it is generally the most moderate members of both parties who speak at the highest grade levels, and the most extreme members who speak at the lowest grade levels. This pattern is most pronounced among freshmen and sophomore members.
Prior to 2005, Republicans on average spoke at a slightly higher grade level than Democrats. Since then, Democrats have spoken on average at a slightly higher grade level than Republicans.
Some of the decline in grade level since 2005 is because junior members speak at a lower grade level than senior members, and some of it is because senior members have simplified their speech patterns over time.
On average, the more words individual members speak on the floors of Congress, the simpler their speech tends to be.
It is interesting that the most “dumbed down” congressmen are freshmen Tea Partiers. This is not surprising, given the scorn they heap upon educated “elitists.” Okay, down with intellectuals…but does the alternative have to be sheer ignorance?
The movie, Idiocracy, is proving to be more and more prescient of the actual state of politics and intelligence in this country. Some of us base our votes on “likability” and who we might want to have a beer with. That didn’t work out very well with Dubya, but never mind. Let’s double down on ignorance and see how far off the tracks we can drive this country. I feel a strange sense of horror and exhilaration as I witness the self-destruction of the GOP in agonizingly slow motion. I would prefer a sane and sober Republican Party to help provide balance of government, but no…the trend continues to veer farther and farther right towards fascism. The Epsilon-minus Semi-Moron voters seem to like it that way.