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Congress Talks Like a 10th Grader


Photo: Lawrence Jackson

Quick: what's circular, full of wind and is destructively expensive? Tornado? No, Congress.

It's no secret that politicians love to talk, but what is suprising is that the average grade level of Congressional speech has fallen almost a full grade.

NPR's Tamara Keith explains:

Every word members of Congress say on the floor of the House or Senate is documented in the Congressional Record. The Sunlight Foundation took the entire Congressional Record dating back to the 1990s and plugged it into a searchable database.

Lee Drutman, a political scientist at Sunlight, took all those speeches and ran them through an algorithm to determine the grade level of congressional discourse.

"We just kind of did it for fun, and I was kind of shocked when I plotted that data and I saw that, oh my God, there's been a real drop-off in the last several years," he says.

In 2005, Congress spoke at an 11.5 grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. Now, it's 10.6. In other words, Congress dropped from talking like juniors to talking like sophomores.


(Source: Sunlight Foundation analysis / Image: Alyson Hurt/NPR)

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I find two things especially interesting ...

1. the crossover in '06-'07

2. the fact that, of the ten highest- and ten lowest-ranked, nineteen are Republican. Just one Democrat.
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