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Congress for Dummies

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Call it “Congress for Dummies” — It’s Congress, and lawmakers increasingly think you’re the dummies, at least when it comes to speeches.

Over the last seven years, the level of discourse in Congress has been dumbed down by an entire grade level, from 11th grade down to 10th grade, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.

That’s still a higher level than the average American, who reads at a 9th- or 10th-grade level, but it shows a coarsening of political oratory since the days of the Constitution — written at a 17th-grade level.

The Sunlight Foundation, which pushes for transparency, put lawmakers’ speeches through what’s called the Flesch-Kincaid test, which ranks words by their likely familiarity to readers, and spits out a grade-level score.

Congress kept at a consistent level through the middle of the last decade, but has dropped steadily since then. And in another shift the GOP, which used to always rank higher than Democrats, now trails on the sophistication scale.

Those on the far ends of the ideological spectrum also tend to speak at a lower grade level, while centrist members speak at a higher level, the analysis found.

“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,” Sunlight said in a statement.

The foundation’s analysis can be found here: http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2012/05/21/congressional-speech.

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