Sep 27, 2010

Pollster Frank Luntz takes your questions about his Outlook article, "Is the 'Pledge to America' a worthy successor to the 'Contract With America' ? ", his thoughts on the midterm elections and more.

The piece I wrote on Sunday was designed to focus on language, not policy.  I wanted to give readers an insider's view about how language is created in general and the impact of words, in particular.  I was surprised at how many readers were critical of the messaging effort.  Both parties do it.  Both ideologies do it.  This year the Republicans are doing it better.  In 2008 Obama did it better.  So that was the context in which the piece was written.  So let's get it on, first question.

At the end you said it's a good plan, I am confused.  So many economists and others have said i'ts undoable. So should I just accept it because it's a plan on paper and the Dems do not have one?  I too am an independent, the type that no one talks about.

No you should not accept it just because it's a plan.  The devil is in the details.  That said, it does address the issue the American people feel Congress has either ignored or rejected.  I wish it had the elimination of earmarks.  I wish it had a balanced budget amendment but it does have dozens of specifics regarding spending, taxes, health care, national security that the American people want now.

How exactly do Republicans plan on controlling the deficit if they exclude defense, seniors and veterans from spending cuts?

Fair question.  And I want to emphasize I am a pollster, not a policy person.  That question is better addressed to members of Congress.  That said, the plan does call for a line by line examination of every budget and every expenditure.  Frankly, I hope they do a forensic audit that holds each agency accountable for what they spend and how they spend it.  At the very minimum Washington has a responsbility to spend your tax dollars a lot more wisely.

There appears to be a bipartisan spirit to throw the bums out, as visible Republicans AND Democrats have been turned out from the right and left, respectively (Murkowski and Castle;  Specter and Fenty). I suspect what the electorate really wants to do is un-elect OTHER people's congressmen, who bring pork projects to their home jurisdictions. Does the Pledge constitute a commitment to cut spending (including defense), even that which benefits MY CONSTITUENTS, or is it just another "low taxes for everyone and pork for us" platform?

It had better rsult in lower spending or the newly elected people will be thrown out just as fast as the current incumbents. Make no mistake, the Republicans were fired in 2006 because of waste, corruption and mismanagement.  That's exactly what's happening to the Democrats today.  If the Republicans break their pledge they'll be punished as they should be.  As for the Democrats, they should have listened much more carefully to the American center.  That's why they won in 2008 and that's why they will lose in 2010.

Which has more credibility or which is more leaglly binding?

Neither are legally binding.  But both of them are sincere efforts to tell voters what they will do before the election, not after.  You should be outraged that the Democrats won't take a vote on the tax cut issue until after the election.  You have a right to know where they stand right now. 

If the current "Pledge" helps the GOP in the short-term (2010 elections) but, in so doing, helps re-elect Obama in 2012 (as happened with Clinton in 1996), then can the "Pledge" really be considered successful? In other words, is this just a short-term gimmick that is " deja-vu all over again"?

I realize that there are those reading this who won't believe what I'm about to say but those who know me know exactly how I think about questions like this.

I want and demand accountability.  If this pledge holds these people's feet to the fire, it was a success regardless of the electoral outcome.  Elections happen one day every two years.  Governing happens the other 728 days.  I care more about governing than about elections.

Frank, did you really use the term "intellectual heft" in connection with this plan? Have you been paying attention to who is pulling the strings in the GOP lately? Intellectual heft is not something I'd associate with this bunch. Maybe Paul Ryan and a couple others, but Eric Cantor for one seems to be doing his best to make people forget he's an Ivy Leaguer.

You made me chuckle.  Paul Ryan is brilliant. Paul Ryan is the brightest member of the House on either side.  He's the only individual pursuing a genuinely thoughtful, intellectual, comprehensive approach to all these issues, and many of his ideas can be found in the pledge.

As for Eric Cantor, he has been able to reach across the aisle and engage in bipartisan conversations that Nancy Pelosi either wouldn't or couldn't. 

These two people give me faith that the next generation of GOP leaders will be better than the past.

Which is more legally binding? A Contract with or a Pledge to.

Neither are legally binding.  Unfortunately, thanks to our court system, many of our laws arent' legally binding.  It's all open to interpretation.  All I have to do is point to Rod Blagojevich.  Enough said.

Just read your book, "Words That Work", again. Know you worked on the Contract w/ America years ago. Were you involved with this pledge and what words you would advise "never to use" and what words / phrases should be used in thier place in this pledge? My first impression with this pledge idea was, "Been there, done that." This seems a gimmick when the Repubicans, I regret to say, don't really have any idea what to do either. I usually vote Republican, but I'm just not too impressed with the leadership these days. But we do like you and always look forward to your commentary.

I understand your frustration.  For several years Republicans were rudderless. They had no agenda and no purpose.  That changed over the past six months.  They have a complete health-care plan down to the details.  It's unfortunate the press won't write about it.  They have a complete alternative budget but the press won't write about it.  They have an entirely different approach to national security and energy security but no one knows about it.  If it's not written in the Washington Post no one knows it exists. 

At a minimum, the plegdge should be respected for the attempt to put in writing a clearly defined plan for 2011.  And I think it goes beyond that. 

It may surprise readers but I watch MSNBC three or four times a week.  I watch both political parties on C-SPAN.  I've read Barack Obama's books just as I read John McCain's.  I think it's tragic that we look for our news to affirm us rather than inform us.  One reason why we are so divided is because so many of us have just stopped listening.  You will learn a lot more when you hear people rather than shouting at them.  I'm reasonably good at what I do because I listen to everyone, including my critics.  I suggest you all do the same. 

I said this because I'm well aware of the criticism, not just in the coments section but whenever I post on Huffington or AOL or anywhere. The viciousness of the reponses aren't fit for the eyes of adults, let alone the children who read them.  Just because you have the benefit of anonymity doesn't release you from the responsiblity to be civil. 

How about discussing the difference in the delivery mechanism between the Pledge and Contract? The Contract could be torn out in physical form in a magazine most Americans had on their coffee table. As far as I know, the Pledge seems only available when linked to from news article?

You are well-read and well-versed in the difference between the two documents.  I loved the fact that the people could clip out the contract, put it on their refrigerator and keep treack opf the Republican commitment.  But with the Web millions of people will hold the Republicans accountable so I think the Pledge has just as much a chance of succeeding.

"They have a complete alternative budget but the press won't write about it. They have an entirely different approach to national security and energy security but no one knows about it. " Where can I find more about this? Something with a bit more substance than this pedge.

Call Paul Ryan's office. 

I dont think either party has any credibility when it comes to the budget and deficits. The Dems have not shown any ability to cut spending, yet the GOP shows no ability to propose anything but a tax cut. The Bush tax cuts were never paid for. Until there are adults in Washington who are serious about handling this budget differently, we are stuck with these two political parties

I don't agree and the best evidence is the stimulus which failed to stimulate and we are a trillion dollars poor as a result.  And by the way, the difference in spending perceptions betwee Republican and Democrats is why I believe the GOP will win the House.  The Democrats spent way too much. 

Might health care backfire on Republicans. While it is not popular, how popular do you think it will be to take away health benefits after the public has been given them?

Most of the benefits have still not been given and the cost is prohibitive.  I think the American people would prefer health-care reform that is less expensive, less bureaucratic and more personalized. 

In closing, I'm glad that The Washington Post offers its readers this opportunity and I want you all to know I get it.  I really do.  You're all angry.  You all distrust Washington and you all want a change.  I'm listening.  I hear you.  I understand. 

In This Chat
Frank Luntz
Frank I. Luntz, a pollster and communications consultant, is the author of ?Words That Work: It?s Not What You Say, It?s What People Hear? and ?What Americans Really Want ... Really.?
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