WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Congress speaks at nearly a full grade level lower than it did seven years ago, according to a new Sunlight Foundation analysis. Using the CapitolWords.org website -- which features the most popular words and phrases in the Congressional Record since 1996 -- Sunlight reviewed the vocabulary and sentence structure of what members of Congress are saying.
Today’s Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level, down from a high of 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 Flesch-Kincaid test was used to conduct the analysis, which equates higher-grade levels with longer words and longer sentences.
The analysis, written by Senior Fellow Lee Drutman in collaboration with Software Developer Dan Drinkard, is broken into three parts on the Sunlight blog:
A complete database of how each member in the current Congress ranks in the analysis is also available.
Taking into account the complete Congressional Record since 1996, we rank the lawmakers with the highest- and lowest-record grade levels.
Rep. Daniel Lungren (R-CA) -- 16.01
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) -- 14.94
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) -- 14.19
Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) -- 14.19
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) -- 14.18
Rep. John Mulvaney (R-SC) -- 7.95
Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) -- 8.02
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) -- 8.04
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) -- 8.09
Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) -- 8.13
Lee Drutman offers four takeaways from the analysis:
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.
The technology behind the analysis, Capitol Words, gives an at-a-glance view of the issues that dominate Congress and also enables researchers to view full transcripts of the record by bill number or specific date. Every legislator that served in the past 15 Congresses has a profile page where you can view his or her favorite words and phrases. Visit the site at CapitolWords.org.
The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable. Visit http://SunlightFoundation.com to learn more about Sunlight’s projects, including http://PoliticalPartyTime.org and http://influenceexplorer.com.