“My message is simple.” Rating the reading grade level of all State of the Union speeches.

“My message is simple.” Rating the reading grade level of the State of the Union speeches.

The Flesch-Kincaid test is designed to assess the readability level of written text, with a formula that translates the score to a U.S. grade level. Longer sentences and sentences utilizing words with more syllables produce higher scores. Shorter sentences and sentences incorporating more monosyllabic words yield lower scores.

Smart Politics ran the Flesch-Kincaid test on each of the last 70 State of the Union Addresses that were delivered orally by presidents before a Joint Session of Congress since Franklin Roosevelt. Excluded from analysis were five written addresses (by Truman in 1946 and 1953, Eisenhower in 1961, Nixon in 1973, and Carter in 1981) and two addresses that were delivered orally, but not by the President himself (Roosevelt in 1945 and Eisenhower in 1956). The vast majority of State of the Union speeches were delivered in writing prior to FDR.

While you might not be surprised by the results, a close look at the list illustrates both the influence of television and the decline in political thought in the past half century.