This past Wednesday night, GOP consultant Frank Luntz discussed the results of his “focus group” with Donald Trump supporters, concluding that their enthusiasm for the candidate is unshakeable.
From the Washington Post to National Review and FOX News, much is being made of the focus group participants’ unwavering support for Trump even when presented with negative ads and statements from the candidate, including Kasich’s ad comparing Trump to Hitler.
The wearying theatrics of Frank-Luntz “focus groups” are one of the speed bumps we viewers have to navigate during the election season. I am resigned to the fact that producers think someone still marvels at the “dials” and the Price Is Right aspect to it all.
Why we shouldn’t pay any attention to this focus group:
- The research question,”Is there any way to make you stop supporting Trump?” is poorly constructed and yields no meaningful responses.
- The methodology is flawed — the focus groups are televised, the sample size is far too large, the moderator is a performer, and focus groups themselves rarely yield rich insight.
- The conclusions are obvious and uninteresting.
1) Selecting a research question such as “is there any way to make you stop supporting Trump” shows exactly where Luntz’s prejudices lie.
If I were conducting market research to understand the mind of a Trump supporter, something I do for my day job, I would begin a much different way: “what draws you to him?” This is the appropriate question to ask of a strong supporter.
Let’s suppose — and Luntz has given us the ammunition to make such a supposition — that Luntz, or his bosses, detest Trump and truly wants to weaken this foe of the GOP establishment.
Strategically, it makes no sense to go after the high-intensity supporters to see what changes their mind (probably very little, especially in this highly charged atmosphere). Rather, they ought to go to the “default Trump” supporters — the undecideds in the GOP — or those picking candidates considered more conservative than the GOP picks, but not Trump (Carson, Cruz). These would be the appropriate subjects to subject to a focus group.
2) Of course, focus groups are themselves inadequate at deriving truly useful insight.
A Luntz performance, woefully inadequate. I have moderated many focus groups and the fact that participants influence each other while in the room, even with a skillful moderator to cultivate the quiet ones and quell the loudmouths, makes the insights quite unreliable.
Does Luntz realize the deficiency of the research question and his methodology (televised, ever-growing sample sizes, moderator-as-performer)? I would assume he does.
3) When he expresses supreme surprise at the result, is he truly surprised?
I would hope not — I would not expect to find a different result if we collected Hillary-Clinton brand champions in a room and asked them to react to ads attacking her about Benghazi. These are Trump’s strongest supporters. Nor, as I discussed earlier, would this be a thoughtful strategy or methodology to utilize to understand how to weaken support for Hillary Clinton among her strongest supporters.
“You actually ran the negative ads and they were laughing at them,” Hannity said to Luntz on his show Wednesday night.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Luntz responds.
I’ve never seen anything like the relentless intractability of the GOP Establishment in their desire to belittle a majority of those whom they are meant to represent. Who are sending them quite the message, loud and clear, no focus group required to interpret.
Ask not “how can we get these Trumpkins to stop supporting him” and rather, “what is it that drives their support?” “What are we missing that might help us understand our base better?” And don’t televise it.DONATE
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