Congress Speaks Like a Bunch of 10th-Graders
It's dropped a grade since 2005: analysis
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2012 11:13 AM CDT
The West side of the US Capitol Building is seen in this May 1, 2012 photo in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Didn't do so great on that last vocabulary test? That's OK, there's a place in Congress for you. The current class of congressmembers speaks at a 10.6 grade level—down almost a full grade from 2005's 11.5 grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. According to a political scientist at the Sunlight Foundation, the open government group that ran the numbers, one reason for the decline is the influx of new members who were elected in 2010, many of them with Tea Party support. "Particularly among the newest members of Congress, as you move out from the center and toward either end of the political spectrum, the grade level goes down, and that pattern is particularly pronounced on the right," he says. In easier-to-understand terms: All of the 10 members who speak at the lowest grade levels are Republicans, and nearly all are freshmen.

Of course, the political scientist wouldn't tell NPR whether it's more effective to speak at a lower level or a higher one, so we'll let you decide for yourself. Higher grade levels are simply associated with longer sentences and bigger words:

  • A sentence from Rep. Dan Lungren, who has the highest grade ranking: "This Justice Department, in my judgment, based on the experience I've had here in this Congress, 18 years, my years as the chief legal officer of the state of California and 35 or 40 years as a practicing attorney tells me that this administration has fundamentally failed in its obligation to attempt to faithfully carry out the laws of the United States."
  • A series of sentences from Rep. Rob Woodall, who has the second-lowest grade ranking: "What do they say about socialism, Mr. Speaker? It's a great plan until you run out of other people's money. Guess what? We've run out of other people's money. I just want to show you a chart."