The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sunlight Foundation says Congress is getting dumber.

Capitol Words looks like fun, and it could be a good resource. I haven't had time or inclination to mess with it. However, research on that site was used to assess the grade level at which every member of Congress speaks.

The Sunlight Foundation released the ratings, the results of "an analysis of the Congressional Record using Capitol Words. The analysis "uses the Flesch-Kincaid test, which equates higher grade levels with longer words and longer sentences."

There's more, and you can read it here,  but I mainly was interested in where Rep. Noem, and Senators. Thune and Johnson ranked among their 527 peers. There are, when all the seats are filled, 535 Members of Congress (Reps. and Sens.), but only 530 CongressFolks are rated. Maybe there are five seats vacant now because of deaths or convictions.

Anyway, Sunlight's study places Kristi Noem at number 80, 79 places higher than the least literate member of Congress, Rep. Rick Mulvaney, whose use of the language as recorded at Capitol Words since 1996 is what is expected of an eighth-grader. Rep. Noem is rated as having an early 10th-grade command of English.

Sen. Thune, with a grade level use of language at 11.7 years of school, ranks 304 from the bottom, 225 from the top. And Senator Tim Johnson is ranked 511 with a grade-level of 13.3 years, only 19 places below the most literate Member of Congress, Rep. Dan Lungren of California, who speaks at the level of a 16th grader.

According the the Sunlight site's own synopsis,
  1. Controlling for other factors, it is generally the most moderate members of both parties who speak at the highest grade levels, and the most extreme members who speak at the lowest grade levels. This pattern is most pronounced among freshmen and sophomore members.
  2. Prior to 2005, Republicans on average spoke at a slightly higher grade level than Democrats. Since then, Democrats have spoken on average at a slightly higher grade level than Republicans.
  3. Some of the decline in grade level since 2005 is because junior members speak at a lower grade level than senior members, and some of it is because senior members have simplified their speech patterns over time.
  4. On average, the more words individual members speak on the floors of Congress, the simpler their speech tends to be.

1 comment:

Rachael said...

Voted "you rock" and "I suck."

Nice post.