Just about every election night, Republican pollster Frank Luntz assembles a focus group of likely voters to help predict election results. Tonight you can see Luntz interview an assembly of Massachusetts voters on Fox at 9:10 p.m. EST.
But you probably won’t see all the work that went into it. As of late this afternoon, Luntz was still scrambling to balance his focus group with supporters of Democrat Martha Coakley. “I just lost another one,” Luntz growled over his cell phone from a hotel ballroom at Logan Airport. In the last 24 hours, six Coakley voters have dropped out. By contrast, Luntz hasn’t lost a single supporter of her opponent, Scott Brown.
The problem isn’t money. “They’re getting paid well,” Luntz says, “probably more than they’re making at their jobs. And they still don’t want to do it.”
Instead, says Luntz, they’re ashamed. “They don’t want to be on television defending Martha Coakley. It’s passé. It’s socially unacceptable. I never dreamed I’d see Democrats in Massachusetts embarrassed to admit they’re Democrats.”
In all his years of running focus groups, Luntz remembers only a single other experience like this one. It was January of 2004, in Iowa. In the days before the caucuses, Howard Dean, the frontrunner, seemed to collapse from within. Dean’s weakness wasn’t obvious at first. Luntz figured it out when Dean supporters who’d agreed to appear on his MSNBC-sponsored focus group suddenly canceled.
“All my Dean people quit two days out,” he remembers. By election night, the panel remained unbalanced. “Chris Matthews accused me on the air of tanking the group to help John Kerry. I’m still pissed about it.” Ignoring Luntz, Matthews predicted a Dean win. The former Vermont governor came in third.
It all comes back to Luntz now as he works to find bodies willing to represent Martha Coakley. “This is the definition of collapse,” he says.