23 May 2012

Dumbed down or just clearer language? #nlpoli

Via Monkey Cage comes a link to a study that shows that the average speech comprehension level in the United States Congress has dropped a full grade level in the past seven years. It’s dropped to 10.6 from 11.5.

Over the past 16 years,  the Republicans and Democrats have traded places when it comes to scoring lower grade levels on the comprehension scale.  The party scores were never more than 0.2 or 0.4 apart, but since 2006, the Republicans score lower than the Democrats.

Some people may think this is a sign that politics is getting dumber.  Others will say that it shows that more and more politicians are realising they have to speak to the voting public more effectively. The study didn’t find any correlation between the reading comprehension scores for the congressional district and the score for the representative for that district.

The average American reading comprehension is about Grade 8 or 9 on the Flesch-Kincaid scale.  That scale calculates grade level based on things like the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables in the words used on average.

This quote from the May 22 Hansard:

The federal government doesn’t have a responsibility, a dedicated responsibility, to respond to ground search and rescue in this province, but they have a humanitarian responsibility, and I don’t believe they lived up to it.

scores Grade 20.99 on the scale.

This quote from the same Hansard entry:

We have seen this government change its tune on a number of important issues. Now we see them trying to do the same regarding their relationship with Stephen Harper. The people of this province will not forget the premier campaigning on stage with Stephen Harper.

scored Grade 7.30.  CBC used both quotes in an online story on Tuesday.

Just for curiosity, your humble e-scribbler ran some Hansard reports  through the same website used to calculate the F-K scores above.  The site calculates readability using different scoring systems including Flesch-Kincaid.

SRBP grabbed a couple of days from each month in a session with no particular concern for the day in the legislative calendar.  Here are the results:


Flesch-Kincaid Grade

May 22 (2012)


May 17


April 24


April 03


March 28


March 14



May 28 (2008)


May 6


April 20 (2004)


April 01



May 20 (1998)


April 02



June 9 (1993)


March 22