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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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