Are You Smarter Than a Congressman?

The grades are in, and PA’s members of Congress slightly outperform the grade level of the average speaker in Washington, DC.

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

8 Responses

  1. Replacing “everyman” Kelly who knows how to deal with people with yet another Academic protected in her Union Job would not serve the Constituents of PA-3. Congress, the Senate AND the White House need more businesspeople and fewer speechifiers. Kelly, in fact, does communicate with his constituents. If Eaton stays true to the “Professor” style, who’ll want to even hear her if no grade’s on the line?

  2. Must be Jim Gerlach’s liberal arts Dickinson College background showing through!

  3. I can hardly wait for Missa Eaton to beat Mike Kelly. That’ll raise the Pennsylvania average considerably.
    Go, Missa!

  4. Did Joe Pitts get any minus points from teacher for forgetting who runs Israel these days?

  5. Are our Congressman actually applying Gunning and Flesch’s theory of written communication to their public speaking ? Hopefully.

    I have seen many elected officials adjust their speaking styles to their audience . That is a sign of someone who wishes to communicate and it requires more skill.

    Conversely, I have seen regulators speak to groups where they spoke at a college level and never communicated to the majority of the audience.

  6. Two problems:

    1) There appears to be a typo:

    Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Chester): 11.77
    should probably be 10.77, since list appears to be sorted in descending order.

    2) The average (with the typo corrected) is 11.75 not 12.34
    (even with the typo, it would have been only 11.80)

Comments are closed.

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