Discredited Republican pollster Frank Luntz made rounds on MSNBC convention coverage with flawed focus group; nobody pointed out his partisanship

Discredited Republican pollster Frank Luntz, CEO and president of Luntz Research Companies, made four appearances during MSNBC's coverage of the Democratic (July 28 and July 29) and Republican (September 1 and September 2) National Conventions, touting flawed focus groups in three of his appearances. Not once during any of these appearances did any MSNBC anchor or commentator mention Luntz's partisan Republican ties or questionable ethical standards.

The overall results of Luntz's convention studies were not overtly in favor of either presidential candidate -- the focus groups' results for each convention generally favored each convention's featured party. But three of his four focus groups showed an institutional bias toward President George W. Bush. One Luntz focus group held during the DNC compared Gore 2000 voters to Bush 2000 voters. But he conducted three other groups (one during the DNC and two during the RNC) in which he compared Republicans' reactions to speeches to the combined reactions of Democrats and Independents. Furthermore, during his September 2 appearance on MSNBC, Luntz described those groups as “Republicans” and “Democrats”; but onscreen, they were identified as “GOP” and “Dem/Ind.”

On July 28, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews described Luntz as “a great pollster,” but as Media Matters for America has noted, Salon.com reported in 2000 that there is little reason to trust his polls. In 1997, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) reprimanded Luntz for his polling work on the Republican Party's 1994 Contract with America campaign platform. The Salon.com article described Luntz as “possibly the best example of what we could call the pollster pundit: someone who both purports to scientifically poll the opinions of the public, and then also interpret that data to support his own -- in Luntz's case, conservative -- point of view.” Luntz has explained his own methodology as follows: “Say you poll on an environmental issue, and on eight of the 10 questions the numbers are in your favor. Why release the other two? It's like being a lawyer.”

MSNBC's failure to identify Luntz's party affiliation notwithstanding, the pollster has conducted polls for Republicans and has made his preference for the 2004 presidential election clear. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on September 2, “Earlier this year, GOP pollster Frank Luntz advised Republicans to never talk about Iraq or homeland security without first mentioning how '9/11 changed everything.'” The Cleveland Plain Dealer noted on September 1 that “Republican pollster Frank Luntz did his best Tuesday to pump up Ohio's Republicans at a delegation breakfast. 'If you guys fail, if John Kerry becomes president by a percent or half a percent, I think you're going to be pretty regretful,' he said.”

Despite Luntz's questionable ethical standards and partisan ties, the print media covered his convention focus groups thoroughly. Stories appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the New York Post. As The Washington Post noted, “White House communications director Dan Bartlett, citing Luntz's finding and his own impressions, said in an interview that the [Senator Zell] Miller speech seemed to be effective.”