Members of Congress talk as if they’re in high school, report finds

Members of Congress speak like a bunch of 10th-graders, according to new data from the Sunlight Foundation.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization analyzed years of speeches from the official Congressional Record.

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Researchers found that lawmakers speak at about a 10.6 grade level. That’s better than the average Joe, who reads between an eighth and ninth grade level. 

But here’s the bad news: If legislators were high school students, they might have been held back a grade. Just seven years ago, Congress was speaking at an 11.5 grade level.

The grade-level free-fall appears to be bipartisan. While between 1996 and 2005 Republicans consistently spoke at a two-tenths higher grade level than Democrats (except for 2001, when they spoke at the same level), both parties have slipped in recent years.

In 2011, Republicans dropped from an 11.6 grade level to a 10.3, and Democrats slipped from 11.4 to 10.6.

The Sunlight Foundation writes of its findings, “It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of the decline. Perhaps it reflects lawmakers speaking more in talking points, and increasingly packaging their floor speeches for YouTube. Gone, perhaps, are the golden days when legislators spoke to persuade each other, thoughtfully wrestled with complex policy trade-offs and regularly quoted Shakespeare.”



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