Dumbing Down The SOTU


State of The Union Speeches Reading Levels from SocProf on Vimeo.

The interactive graphic from the Guardian is here. The Flesch-Kincaid reading level measurement is here.

The real question is why this is happening, especially considering the fact that Americans are more educated now than they were in the days of Washington or Madison. One suggestion might be that the SOTU is now a TV spectacle, written by communication specialists, not for an educated audience. Early SOTU were probably heard and read only by a few. The spectacle dimension directly alters the content.

4 thoughts on “Dumbing Down The SOTU

  1. It is incredibly sad to see the Guardian buying this massive misuse of the Flesch-Kincaid – which, more or less, tracks sentence length and sesquipedalian loquaciousness.
    That’s it.
    A run-on sentence will score higher than a concise statement. <a href="A grammatical mess which introduces topics, drops them, and ultimately arrives nowhere will score higher than a set of three shorter, more meaningful sentences would. And a sentence in which large words are misused will score higher than one in which short words are applied with surgical precision.

  2. Yes, I was likewise shocked at the use of this scale for this purpose, and also at how it was being interpreted uncritically as an indicator of “dumbing down”.
    Maybe it could be profitably used in sociology classes as showing how it matters to think about your measures before producing fancy infographics of “big data” 🙁

  3. Regardless of the scale used, I think dumbing things down is a good thing. Just because presidents want their message to go to a large number of people that does not mean that people are “dumber”. I find it progressive and more democratic to use a language that laymen can understand and is not only reserved for the elite.

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