Sunday, May 27, 2012


The subheading of a most interesting story in today’s newspaper reads, “Members of Congress have simplified their speech to the level of high school sophomores, a study finds.” 

As nearly as I can tell, the study results are based on a data accumulated from all the speeches given before Congress between 1996 and 2011.
"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.)"

A senior fellow at the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which compiled the study, comments that members seem to be gearing their speeches as sound bites or YouTube clips. 

This study has all manners of interesting interpretations, some pitting old guard against newcomers, Republications against Democrats, conservative and liberal branches of each party and then, and also very interesting, member against member. 

The newspaper article really just gives a tasty introduction to some of these interpretations; going to the Sunlight Foundation’s website provides much more comprehensive details to chew on.

In reading both the newspaper article and the original information published online, I have to say I was not surprised at all, especially not with the idea that the rating for the younger members is significantly less than for the older members.  I see and hear that idea every day when I listen to the news broadcasts on TV and radio.  But one of the congressional members whose personal rating is quite low explains that it may just be that they are trying to be clear and concise, rather than appear pompous and abstruse.  Which I also understand.

Anyway, the Times article is a good recap of the study and I think is worth reading.,0,7407923.story 

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