Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The "Dumbing Down" of Congressional and Presidential Speech...

by: Les Carpenter
Rational Nation USA
Liberty -vs- Tyranny

Interestingly enough we have new studies out that rank not only congressional speaking levels but Presidential speaking levels as well. I am quite certain the conclusions drawn from both studies will be disputed by many on either side of the political spectrum as they rush to put some sort of spin on the results that are unflattering to them. After all no one wants to be considered in the class perceived as being the most "dumbed down." Do they?

Rather than attempting to summarize each study, which would likely carry some personal bias no matter how much I tried to avoid it, I will leave you with a couple of teasers. First the study on Congressional speech followed by the Presidential study. The rest is up to you to sort out and draw your own conclusions.

Sunlight Foundation, The changing complexity of congressional speech - 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 above the heads of the average American, who reads at between an 8th and 9th grade level.

Today’s Congress speaks at about 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, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 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. Most major newspapers are written at between an 11th and 14th grade level. (You can find more comparisons here)


Overall, the complexity of speech in the Congressional Record has declined steadily since 2005, with the drop among Republicans slightly outpacing that for Democrats (see Figure 1). Through April 25, 2012, this year's Congressional Record clocks in at a 10.6 grade level, down from 11.5 in 2005.

Between 1996 and 2005, Republicans overall spoke at consistently 2/10ths of a grade level higher than Democrats, except for 2001, when a rare moment of national unity also seems to have extended to speaking at the same grade level. But following 2005, something happened, and Congressional speech has been on the decline since. For Republicans as a whole, the decline was from an 11.6 grade level to a 10.3 grade level in 2011 (up slightly to 10.4 in 2012 so far). For Democrats, it was a decline from 11.4 to 10.6 in 2011 (also up slightly to 10.8 in 2012 so far.) {Read the Full Study}

The Washington Free Beacon, House GOP Speaks at Higher Level than Obama - A new study conducted by a non-profit organization reveals that House Republicans speak at a higher grade level than President Barack Obama.

Liberals, including MSNBC host Martin Bashir, reveled in a Sunlight Foundation study that found that Republicans spoke at lower reading levels than congressional Democrats. The GOP’s 10th grade speech level ranks two grades higher than Obama’s rhetoric.

The Washington Free Beacon assessed dozens of Obama speeches from different stages of his career using the Flesch-Kincaid method and found that the pattern of simple speeches did not start with his reelection campaign.

Since taking office, Obama has routinely spoken to the American people in a more simplistic manner than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama’s State of the Union addresses peaked at a 10th grade level in 2009 and declined to an eighth-grade level by 2012. Bush, on the other hand, scored consistently above the 10th grade level with his State of the Union addresses, including a high of 11.84 for his 2005 address. {Read More}

If nothing else the exercise, should you decide to pursue it, will likely prove to be fun, and enlightening. For some anyway.

US: State of the Union Registers at 8th Grade Reading Level

Via: Memeorandum


  1. If the president is speaking at an 8th grade level, that means he knows his audience, the American people, and he has to communicate to them at their level.

    If you've read his books, you know that he is more than capable of sophisticated prose.

    Intellectual excellence in populations don't necessarily follow a linear line forward.

    We're going backward.

    1. I thought you would possibly weigh in with such a comment.

      I actually agree with your basis premise on this.

      Personally I do not believe the President lacks the ability to speak at a considerably higher level of oral communication. Even while finding his conclusions often lacking in substance. But that is just me and I suppose to be expected from a person with diametrically opposing views from those the President holds.

  2. No body "dumb downed" Presidential speech, more than George Bush Jr.

  3. LOL! The other day, I was watching an event on C-Span during which a speaker mentioned that today's American speakers rank behind the world in articulation and eloquence, and then I read this blog assailing Obama as if the right wing in America today had ANYONE as articulate as him.


    1. jmj, did you read my response to Shaw, did you even take the time to read ALL the data, Did I say anything hyping right wing eloquence or ability to articulate?

      I thought not.

  4. I suspect that if you threw out the outlier scores of Bachmann, Pelosi, and Waters, the Congressional average may in fact go up a little, but only a little.

  5. Clinton was the last president who could effectively address an audience. He had the ability to make you feel he understood what was happening. Bush was horrible and Obama is not much better. I am sure Obama is bright but his style of speech where he starts and stops in spurts is disconcerting. Perhaps he speaks that way because he reads his speeches instead of remembering them.


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