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Why today’s politicians are dumber than previous ones

Have you ever considered going into politics?

Sure, there’s some fame and fortune involved, plus the added bonus of actually feeling like you’re giving something back to the community that you represent.  This may work best in smaller cities and neighborhoods — being the president of your local Homeowners Association requires a completely different skillset than being the Mayor of your town.

Just like being Mayor requires different skills in some podunk town in the middle of nowhere than it does being Mayor of a major metropolitan city.

Face it – if too many cows on your byways is the biggest problem you have to deal with, then you’re not quite ready to attack the Major Politics of Today.

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself
You Are Not So Smart:
Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook,
Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction,
and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

All that’s not to say that representing a small political arena is for dumb people, and only smart people can manuever around Big City or National politics.

But maybe there are some trends that can identify whether the person representing your best interests is as smart as they can be when compared to their compatriots.

For instance, according to SUNLIGHT LABS analysis of the members of congress and how they use language, they can identify who present themselves at a higher-intelligent level vs those in congress is try to talk to the lowest-common denominator.

Using some analysis of speeches that all Congressional members have made, they’ve been able to determine the grade level that each Congressman typically speak at.

From a trending perspective, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that as more and more years pass, Congressional speech patterns are getting worse and worse.  Web Watch calls it the MTV Effect (or, to update for the 21st century – the YouTube Effect).  Shorter attention spans and the rise of quick edit TV newscasts has resulted in what is – in effect – representatives that have lost the ability to sound like they’re talking intelligently.

They all may be extremely smart individuals.  But they’re certainly not all presenting themselves that way.

Let’s look at the LOWEST RANKING CONGRESSIONAL MEMBERS and their level of grade school talk:

  • Rep. Mick Mulvaney (SC) – 7th grade
  • Rep Rob Woodall (GA) – 8th grade
  • Rep Rand Paul (KY) – 8th grade
  • Rep Sean Duffy (WI) – 8th grade
  • Rep Tim Griffin (AR) – 8th grade


  • Rep Dan Lungren (CA) – 16th grade
  • Rep Liculle Roybal-Allard (CA) – 14th grade
  • Rep Jim Gerlach (PA) – 14th grade
  • Rep Tom Petri (WI) – 14th grade
  • Sen Daniel Akaka (HI) – 14th grade

(Just go with the grades higher than 12 to be collegiate level. Web Watch is just reporting what’s in the data, not making judgements on how its interpreted.)

Some of what the analysis shows is:

  • Simple speech tends to come from those who speak more.
  • Moderate members of Congress tend to speak at higher grade levels than do those members of Congress who would be considered more extreme.
  • Newer members of Congress tend to speak to a lower grade level than those who’ve been in Congress longer