...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Day 1953: I've Been Luntzed!


Some of you may remember Mr Frank Luntz, who has appeared on the Newsnight show.

Last month, I did a diary about how I spotted the lady from upstairs in Mr Luntz's latest show on the television and went to ask her about it. I also added some ideas about how a session like that might be open to manipulation. Not by Mr Luntz, of course; a proper pollster wouldn't need such tricks.

Well, Mr Luntz himself has been VERY KIND enough to READ my FLUFFY DIARY and post a REPLY!

(I am AMAZED – and a little bit scared – by the POWER of the Internet!)

I think that it is only FAIR if you read his side of the story too, so here is what he has to say:

"I came across your reaction to my focus groups and I just had to comment on a couple of points. It's 5:30 am in the states so I won't take it apart bit by bit, but two points need a response.

"First, when I layed out the photos in the initial session to look at the prospective British Conservative leaders, I didn't even know what Cameron looked like. In fact, the only two people I recognized and knew anything about was Clarke and Fox (whom I had met once before).

"This assertion that the photos were put in some explicit order is ridiculous. They were handed to me in an envelop in that order and that's just how I put them up on the board. I'm sure if I had put Cameron on top, or on the bottom right, or some other place, you would have ascribed a sinister strategy.

"Second, and this is most important, the results of EVERY dial session I have done for Newsnight has been accurately reflected in the subsequent election. The Labour collapse amd Lib-Dem gain, Cameron's election in 2005, and Labour's further drop in 2006 were all documented in the Newsnight sessions. The groups may not confirm what you personally believe, but they do accurately confirm -- based on the election results themselves -- what the people of Britain are thinking.

"Frank Luntz"

Thank you, Mr Luntz for taking the time to read what I said!

Um, if is not too IMPERTINENT, how did you make your SELECTION OF CLIPS of Mr Balloon to show to your guests if you did not know what he LOOKED LIKE before you put out the photos on the day?

I think your second point is A BIT STRANGE. I am sure that it really is MOST IMPORTANT to you that people continue to believe that you CAN make predictions that are right but I do NOT remember you actually MAKING any predictions about how the local elections would turn out.

Did you say that the Conservatories would be gaining more than 300 council seats? That would be a measurable prediction that would show you are good! Or did you predict the twenty plus gains for the British Nasty Party? That would have been a good way to show foresight!

Saying that election night would be a good night for Mr Balloon is a BIT in the SEASIDE FORTUNE TELLER league. You could also try saying that Mr Balloon will meet a tall dark stranger.

Predicting that Mr Balloon would be leader of the Conservatories was more CLEVER – but not THAT MUCH more clever.

If you look at it, a LOT of the Conservatories (and not least general-election-looser Mr Something of the Night!) were looking for the man who could beat Mr Davis David.

It wasn't going to be Sir Malcolm Rifkind; even HE knew he didn't stand a chance. And no matter what the BBC, Guardian, Independent or actual real live members of the public might have WISHED, that man was never going to be Fatty Clarke either! So you really you only had to pick between SWIVEL-EYED EURO-LOON Fantastic Doctor Fox and EMPTY-SPACE-WITH-A-SMILE-DRAWN-ON Mr Balloon.

Before anyone gets the WRONG IDEA: there is NO REASON to think that Mr Luntz was not COMPLETELY GENUINE.

But, if done by someone UNSCRUPULOUS, it could just be another CONJURING TRICK, this time FIND THE LADY!

That is not to say that there is not A LOT OF SKILL involved in doing that sort of thing. A stage magician must do a lot of HARD WORK to guide the way his audience thinks.

Which reminds me, Mr Luntz: have you considered the effect that your prediction might have made on the people choosing Mr Balloon?

As a pollster you can tell me: isn't SELF-FULFILLING PROPHESY one of the things that polls have to work carefully to avoid?

(Doesn't that include things like being careful about the way and order in which you ask questions so as not to be LEADING the respondents. Oh, and probably how you lay out props – like photos – in the setting for the poll. Aren't professional pollsters supposed to be very careful about that sort of thing?)

You are PROBABLY a very FLUFFY and NAÏVE individual a bit like ME, Mr Luntz, and do not realise that SOMETIMES people who are involved in ELECTIONS make use of opinion polls to try and help them win!

Mr the Merciless plays up polls that say the Liberal Democrats are doing well.
(You have probably not seen the BAR CHARTS on Liberal Democrat Focus leaflets.)

Mr Balloon plays up polls that say the Conservatories are doing well.
(Do you remember how that used to happen when he first started?)

HM Margaret Hedgehog plays up polls that say the British Nasty Party are doing well.
(Err.. that might have been a DREADFUL mistake!)

Did you know that Mr Balloon sent out DVDs of YOUR NEWSNIGHT PIECE to all the Conservatory voters in the leadership election? I am sure that this must make you very upset.

No doubt you would be SHOCKED to think that you might have become involved with PROPAGANDA!!

However, what I think is MOST IMPORTANT is that people need to be FULLY INFORMED if they are to make good decisions.

People who read my DIARY know that my Daddies support the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS (go look – it's in my VERY FIRST ENTRY!) so they can take that into account when they read my OPINIONS.

I think people should know your political background too, Mr Luntz, so that they are better able to understand things like your choice of questions and editorial policy.

I talked to the lady who was at your meeting and got a VERY DIFFERENT impression of what people there thought from her than I got from watching the TELLY.

You do not need to be DELIBERATELY manipulating what was shown for this to happen – it is QUITE NATURAL that, for example, someone who LIKED the RIGHT WING PARTIES might pick up more on the positive things about MR BALLOON.

Equally, the nice lady could have been emphasising the NICE things about the Liberal Democrats because she was talking to me! That is why it is GOOD and PROPER that people know that I am a Liberal Democrat elephant so that they can take that into account when reading MY VERSION.

In the same way, people watching the telly should KNOW that the person making the show had, for example, worked for the REPUBLICAN PARTY in America, or alternatively had been at OXFORD UNIVERSITY with friends of Mr Balloon. That way they can BETTER understand what they are watching because they will know that that person might ACCIDENTALLY be favouring Mr Balloon.

I am sure that an honest person like you would agree that keeping quiet about these things makes it look, QUITE UNFAIRLY, like you have something to hide. And it would be HORRIBLE if your reputation suffered for that!

Dear reader, if you have enjoyed Mr Luntz's reply, you might be interested to know that he has also replied to THE LIBERAL REVIEW and to MY DADDY ALEX.

In fact, he has sent the SAME reply to The Liberal Review and to My Daddy Alex.

I am glad that he wrote me a PROPER replay and not SPAM.

I do hope that all these replies are not because Mr Luntz suddenly has a lot more time on his hands.

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