Congressional Speeches Drop A Grade

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WASHINGTON, (UPI) — Speeches by members of U.S. Congress have dropped by nearly a full grade level since 2005, a Sunlight Foundation analysis indicated.

Today’s Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level — a high school sophomore year — down from a high of 11.5 — a high school junior level — in 2005, the analysis released Monday indicated.

The U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 grade level and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level.

Sunlight said it reviewed the vocabulary and sentence structure of what congressional members are saying by using the CapitolWords.org Web site, which features the most popular words and phrases in the Congressional Record since 1996. The Flesch-Kincaid test was used to conduct the analysis, which equates higher-grade levels with longer words and longer sentences.

Sunlight senior fellow Lee Drutman, who conducted the study with Software Developer Dan Drinkard, said more moderate members of both parties speak at the highest grade levels, with the most extreme members speaking at the lowest grade levels. This is most pronounced among freshmen and sophomore members.

Before 2005, Republicans, on average, spoke at a slightly higher grade level than Democrats. Since 2005, Democrats, on average, speak at a slightly higher grade level than Republicans.

“Congress is changing as an institution, and what you see is more and more members gearing their speeches as sound bites or YouTube clips,” Druthman told the Los Angeles Times.

The bottom five are Republican Reps. John Mulvaney of South Carolina, Rob Woodall of Georgia, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and Tim Griffin of Arizona, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. All were rated as speaking at about an eighth grade level.

“We look at it as a badge of honor,” Mulvaney, a graduate of Georgetown University and the University of North Carolina Law School, told the Times. “It’s a conscious decision on my part. We are trying to be clear and trying to be concise.”

At the top — all speaking at a collegiate level — are Reps. Daniel Lungren, R-Calif., Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., and Thomas Petri, R-Wis., and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

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