Members of Congress dumbing down their speeches

Today’s members of Congress speak, on average, at about a 10th-grade reading level, according to a recent study that matches the Flesch-Kincaid readability test to what Congress says according to the Congressional Record. In 2005, Congress spoke at an 11th-grade reading level.

How do Clark County’s members of Congress compare? Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell speaks at about a 12.8 grade reading level. Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray speaks at a 10.9 grade level. Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler speaks at a 9.5 grade level.

As those who conducted the study point out, this doesn’t necessarily reflect the intelligence level of our members of Congress. It does, however, demonstrate their communication styles.

In the news business, many who write for newspapers are taught to write at an 8th-grade reading level. In television news that’s often lower, and some industries are encouraged to write public outreach material at a 4th-grade level.

The study, conducted by a government transparency group called the Sunlight Foundation, also found that “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.”

Herrera Beutler is serving her first term in Congress, while Cantwell is serving her fourth Congressional term (two in the House and two in the Senate). Murray is in her fourth term in the Senate.

Speaking of transparency: Full disclosure, I worked for seven months at the Sunlight Foundation as a reporting fellow.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or or or

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