Friday, January 29, 2010

Luntz

Discredited GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who Barack Obama called out to at his "Question Time" appearance with House Republicans today, is out with a new book, which promptly received an excellent review by TNR's Michelle Cottle.  She and Matt Yglesias both make excellent points about Luntzism, which mostly consists of finding words that test well and then recommending that Republicans use those words in pitching their policies.  Yglesias stretches his philosophy muscles to point out that whatever Luntz is peddling, it certainly isn't what (as the book title promises) "What Americans Really Want."  Both pieces (but surely not Luntz's book!) are well worth reading.

What I want to add is: Republicans -- why are you still listening to this guy?  Luntz's great claim to fame was his work on the Contract with America, but if I recall correctly (and I do, but can't find an easy citation) he ran into trouble with Republicans when they discovered that in several cases policies he had assured them were popular were in fact not popular.  Without explaining it to them, he wasn't testing policies, but only manipulating wording to find combinations that produced positive poll numbers.  Rank-and-file Republicans were understandably upset to discover that they had committed to ideas that were a lot less popular than they were told. 

And yet, they can't quit the guy. 

Hey, Republicans: this kind of minor manipulation wasn't what won for you in 1994 (that would be Clinton's unpopularity, some of which had to do with actually unpopular policies, and some of which had to do with the slow recovery from the Bush recession -- and Dole's use of the filibuster in the Senate).  If you do win, it won't help you to govern -- listening to Luntz helped Republicans get to their government shutdown disaster in 1995-1996.  What you need are actual policies that will work and that people like.  Knowing that the word "medications" polls better than the word "medicine" is only going to make it harder for you to figure out which things that you believe are popular and which are not.  It's already hard enough to do that when you and all your activists live in a Fox News bubble, and Luntz is only making it harder.

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