Frank Luntz’s Faulty Barometer

Frank Luntz, who has parlayed the media’s mistaken belief that the Contract with America had much to do with the Republican revolution of 1994 into 13 years (and counting) of notoriety, seems to be popping up in the wake of every presidential debate these days.

His gimmick is to hook up a group of prospective voters to “perception analyzers” – equipment that records their second-by-second reactions as they watch the candidates – and then to go on television and make broad, sweeping conclusions about his findings.  The knock on this technique is that participants end up recording what they think their reactions are supposed to be – not what their actual reactions are. 

So, for example, after Sunday’s GOP debate, Luntz – sharing his findings with The Politico before an appearance on Fox News – reported that his focus group of Iowa Republicans had practically revolted when Ron Paul declared that American troops should be brought home from Iraq.

“Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationwide don’t want to cut and run,” Luntz confidently informed the newspaper.

But then why, in a poll last month, did 56 percent of Iowa Republicans say that they favored “a withdrawal of all United States military from Iraq in six months”?

Could it be that sentiment about Iraq, even among the GOP faithful, is a little more layered and complex that Luntz wants to believe? Maybe, to use the kind of boiled-down language Luntz loves, it’s simply that the respondents were for cutting and running before they were against it.