Last May, the Sunlight Foundation conducted a study that analyzed the grade level in which every person in Congress speaks. When the results came back, the Sunlight Foundation saw that not only did Congress, as a whole, drop an entire grade level, but that the bottom 10 were Republicans.
The highest of the bottom 10 only scored ranked at an 8.6 grade level while the very bottom, held by then-freshman Congressman Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), scored a 7.9 grade level. As a whole, Congress was speaking at an 11.5 grade level in 2005, then, at the time of the study seven years later, it fell to a 10.6 grade level. Sunlight measured these results on the Flesch-Kincaid scale, the rubric for determining grade level through words and speech.
“We just kind of did it for fun, and I was kind of shocked when I plotted that data and I saw that, oh my God, there’s been a real drop-off in the last several years,” said Sunlight political scientist Lee Drutman.
Mulvaney defends his low score by saying “I was trained to write in an clear and concise fashion, and you don’t use big words if small words would do.”
Some think that the dumbing down of language in Congress is connected to each politician’s constituency. USNews blogger Susan Milligan points out that “aggressive and heated rhetoric is, . . . compiled of simpler and less thought-out language because” the ideas do not reflect the words said. This, of course, results is a “schoolyard intellect,” where thought takes a backseat to favor, respect, and pride.
Milligan further indicates the difficulty of being a Congressman, as the job requires one to make “painful decisions,” but the “easy – and often stupid – thing to do is to just do what agitated constituents at town meetings demand their congressmen do, even if the long-term effects are damaging.”