Speeches From US Presidents Have Gotten Dumber Over Time

Speeches from US presidents have gotten dumber over time

Vocativ analysed over 600 presidential speeches in US history, measuring syllables and keeping track of word and sentence count to determine the Flesch-Kincaid reading level of each speech. In the beginning, presidential speeches were at the level of a PhD, now it's at the reading comprehension of a 7th grader.

But this is actually a good thing! Somehow, dumber speeches represent progress in America. Vocativ explains:

"It's tempting to read this as a dumbing down of the bully pulpit," Jeff Shesol explains. "But it's actually a sign of democratization. In the early Republic, presidents could assume that they were speaking to audiences made up mostly of men like themselves: educated, civic-minded landowners. These, of course, were the only Americans with the right to vote. But over time, the franchise expanded and presidential appeals had to reach a broader audience."

The dots on the graph represent presidential speeches over history (the bigger the dot, the longer the speech). For reading level, an 8 is equivalent to 8th grade, 15 to a college graduate and 21 to a PhD.


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