According to IQ tests, we’re getting smarter.  But when I was reading Warren Harding’s “Return to Normalcy” speech, it seemed way over the heads of a modern audience.  The anomaly inspired me to plug Harding’s words into an online grade level applet.

The result: The average estimated grade level required to understand Harding’s speech was 16.06 years.

By way of comparison, Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech had an average estimated grade level of 9.64 years – and McCain’s was 7.72!

If you adjust for the fact that average education levels are much higher in 2008 than they were 1920, these numbers are just weird.  Harding was talking at least a standard deviation over the head of his median voter.  Obama and McCain are talking at least a standard deviation below the head of theirs.

If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that there’s been a drastic expansion of the franchise since 1920.  It looks like we’ve gone from a world where only Harvard grads could vote, to one where all you need is passing grades in kindergarten.