In a recent analysis of Congressional Record by the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan organization dedicated to greater government transparency, researchers found that Congress speaks almost a grade level lower than in 2005, falling from an average of 11.5 to 10.6.
Hat tip to the Morning Call for flagging this study.
The analyses used the Flesch-Kincaid test, which produces the “reads at a ___” level scale by examining the length of sentences and words. Of course, this doesn’t speak to the accuracy or clarity of the text. Indeed, several members on the list below are eloquent in their conciseness. But it does place the 112th Congress in perspective considering the U.S. Constitution was written at a 17.8 grade level.
On average, Americans read between and eighth and ninth grade level, so legislators still have an edge on your everyday “Joe Six Pack.”
In Pennsylvania the grade levels were scattered across the board with little correlation based on ideology, which differs from the national trend. According to the study, Republicans have experienced the greater decline in grade level since 2005, falling from 11.6 to 10.3 in 2011. Democrats didn’t fare significantly better, with their average dropping from 11.4 to 10.6 in 2011.
Apparently, the Republicans forgot to tell Rep. Jim Gerlach that speaking at the college level was so 1789. Gerlach led all Pennsylvania legislators with an average grade level of 14.19 throughout his tenure (a college sophomore). In 2010, Gerlach hit the books and raised his grade level to an average of 15.65, outclassing all other PA legislators by at least three grade levels.
Perhaps Gerlach could spare his fellow Republican Rep. Mike Kelly some of his verbosity. During his time in office Kelly, who owned a car dealership prior to his election, spoke at an average grade level of 9.65 – the lowest among all legislators in PA.
Overall, Pennsylvanians can take solace in the fact that Pennsylvania legislators speak on average at a greater level than those nationally, with an average of 11.75 in the state compared to 10.6 nationally.
Here’s how everyone performed:
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Chester): 14.19
Rep. Todd Platts (R-York): 12.79
Rep. Bob Brady (D-Phila): 12.65
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Phila): 12.41
Rep. Thomas Marino (R-Lycoming): 12.37
Rep. Mark Critz (D-Cambria): 12.24
Rep. Charles Dent (R-Lehigh): 12.19
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Allegheny): 12.16
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Blair): 12.07
Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Montco): 12.07
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks): 12.03
Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Delaware): 11.76
Rep. Tim Holden (D-Schuylkill): 11.65
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne): 11.51
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Lackawanna): 11.45
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny): 11.11
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Chester): 10.77
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Allegheny): 10.64
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh): 10.56
Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-Centre): 10.53
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Butler): 9.64