The dumbing down of political speech


by David Safier

The Sunlight Foundation analyzed the grade level of the speech by members of Congress based on an analysis of the Congressional Record. Overall results: there was a one grade level drop from 2005 (11.5) to today (10.6). Who speaks at the lowest grade level? The most conservative members of Congress.

Interestingly, Republicans had an higher grade level than Democrats on average from 1996 until 2006. Now Republicans are almost a half grade level lower than Democrats.

It would be wrong to call this a measure of the Congress members' intelligence or vocabulary. Their public words are calibrated for their audience. Political speech is being dumbed down because that's what the pollsters think the public wants. And apparently, conservatives want it dumber than anyone else.

Want to know the scores of the Arizona Congressional delegation on their political speech? The highest is . . . John McCain. Next comes Ed Pastor, then Trent Franks, then Raul Grijalva. Here's the whole list.

  1. John McCain: 12.6
  2. Ed Pastor: 12.57
  3. Trent Franks: 12.0
  4. Raul Grijalva: 11.9
  5. Jon Kyl: 11.8
  6. Ben Quayle: 10.7
  7. Jeff Flake: 9.1
  8. Paul Gosar: 9.0
  9. David Schweikert: 8.6

(H/t to Craig of Random Musings, who also cross-blogs on BfA and credited me in the tip-off email as "the unofficial (but de facto) education wonk of the AZ blogosphere." Thanks, Craig, I try to do my part.)