Frank L. Luntz

Excerpts from a Monitor breakfast on a frustrated electorate.

Frank L. Luntz, a pollster, pundit, and host of his own program on MSNBC, has advised both political and corporate clients. Dr. Luntz has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and George Washington University. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate is from Oxford.

On the voter mood in California:

"This is not Republican driven and this is not conservative driven, even though it has undertones of both Republicanism and conservatism. This is a frustration by a majority of the electorate expressed toward their elected officials that their elected officials have failed them.

If the legislature were up right now, if there were a recall of the legislature, they would all be recalled: Mother Nature would be recalled, Mother Teresa would be recalled. There is this real desire to stand up and scream out you have really not done your job, and we have been hurt, and now we want to hurt you."

On what the California recall results mean for President Bush:

"I have got to tell you if they [the Bush administration] are really paying attention to the emotion in California, they would be very frightened about this election result. It is not just anti-Davis or anti-Democrat. There is an anti-incumbent mood out there that I believe exists far east of California.

"And just as Prop. 13 worked its way across America - started in California and worked its way eastward - I think there is is a potential that this anti-incumbent mood could work its way toward Washington. I would be particularly concerned, having watched the success of Howard Dean on the left and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the right. I think there is a rise in populism that we haven't seen since 1992. And that is not good for any incumbent of any political party."

On how President Bush should deal with the anti-incumbent mood:

"Some of it is tone ... the attributes matter more than the issues. I have got proof now. Arnold did not talk about issues at all. Arnold did not give a single fact or statistic. People voted for Arnold not because of where he stood on the issues. They voted for his leadership capabilities, his vision, and his toughness.

"What does that mean for President Bush? It is not just about tax cuts. It is about his tone and his demeanor. The tone is a little bit off right now. The public is not looking for bravado. They are looking for an end. They are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel and at this point they just don't see it.

"I think the president is going to need a little bit more of the compassionate conservatism and just a little bit less of the in-the-face toughness that he has exhibited over the past six months."

On the outlook for President Bush in 2004:

"I may be sounding like I am pessimistic about Bush. I am not. Because the Democrats really define the stupid party. They don't know when to shut up. They don't know when to pull a punch. These presidential candidates are going to misplay it again. Because they assume - this is where Newt Gingrich had it wrong - the people who come to your rallies are not the people you should be playing to. Infact, the people who come to your rallies are the people you shouldn't listen to. Because they are not typical people. They are not normal people. A normal person does not go to a political rally on a Saturday afternoon. And so the Democrats are just too ... too loud, too partisan, too punchy, too in-your-face, too much."

On the breadth of the anti-incumbent sentiment:

"What I am hearing in California, I hear in other parts of the country. I probably interview face-to-face 5,000 voters a year. So what I hear in California is exactly what I am hearing in other states, it just hasn't crystallized yet. They don't have somebody to blame yet."

On the economic indicator that best captures voter sentiment:

"This economic insecurity has been around for a while now, and while the economy has started to come back, they are still afraid. We always look at unemployment as being the leading economic indicator. It is not this time. It is the stock market. It is the value of your retirement savings that matters more than anything. If you think you will be able to retire when you planned because your money has come back, you will vote for this guy - you will vote for Bush. If you think you are going to have to work an extra two or three years because of the market crash, you won't."

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