Study: The most conservative Republicans express lowest levels of speech complexity

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, May 21, 2012 18:08 EDT
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The most conservative Republicans in Congress tend to speak at the lowest grade level, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.

The analysis found that the more conservative a Republican was, the lower his or her speech level tended to be. But same is also partially true for lawmakers on the opposite side of the political spectrum. More progressive Democrats in Congress also tend to speak at a lower grade level. However, the decline in speech complexity is less pronounced for Democrats than it is for Republicans.

“The overall complexity of speech in the Congressional Record has dropped almost a full grade level since 2005,” Lee Drutman of the Sunlight Foundation explained. “And those on the political extremes, especially those on the far right, tend to be associated with the most simple speech patterns.”

The Sunlight Foundation used the Flesch-Kincaid test, one of the most used metrics of readability, to score the speech level of members of Congress based on their Congressional records.

Republican members of Congress had a greater variability in their speech levels than Democrats. Republicans comprised most of the bottom 20 lowest grade level scores, but they also comprised most of the top 20 highest grade level scores.

Rep. John Mulvaney (R-SC), Rob Woodall (R-GA) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke at the lowest grade level, while Rep. Daniel Lungren (R-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Jim Gerlach (R-PA) had the spoke at the highest.

A lower grade level does not necessarily mean a less intelligent speech. The Flesch-Kincaid test simply equates higher grade levels with longer words and longer sentences. It does not take into account factors such as factual correctness, sentence structure, vocabulary, or coherence.

[Man standing at podium via Shutterstock]

Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan has served as an editor for Raw Story since August 2010, and is based out of Sacramento, California. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Science from Bradley University. Eric is also the publisher and editor of PsyPost. You can follow him on Twitter @ewdolan.
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