CBS ‘GOP’ Pollster Frank Luntz Skips Asking Hillary Clinton Focus Group About Email Scandal

CBS News contributor and Republican pollster Frank Luntz convened a focus group on Hillary Clinton that aired on Friday’s CBS This Morning and while many expressed their frustration with the possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Luntz failed to mention both Clinton’s email scandal and questions surrounding the Clinton Foundation.

As opposed to asking about these important stories, Luntz blamed his focus group for not bringing them up and instead threw softball questions at them concerning Bill and Hillary Clinton and Hillary’s qualifications to be president.

Following a simple question to describe Clinton in one word, Luntz asked two female panelists whether electing the “first female president” matters to them, additional group members joined in. Luntz then showed the results of an instant reaction he had the group conduct to a series of clips from both Bill and Hillary Clinton over the past two decades.

Once that was done, he asked for a show of hands of who thought Bill Clinton was a good president and at least a dozen out of the 20 raised their hand. Luntz reacted: “Ok, so the vast majority of you. So, isn't it a positive that she would be following him?”

When some members expressed their disapproval with Clinton and politicians in general, Luntz moved to defend Clinton: “She’s been a U.S. Senator, she’s been Secretary of State, First Lady, isn't she the most qualified candidate?” One woman responded that she agreed and then Luntz asked her directly: “So when you hear these people criticize her, why do you think they are?”

When appearing with the show’s co-hosts at the segment’s conclusion, Luntz admitted that he deliberately chose not bring up the email story and placed his focus group at fault, saying: “I thought they would bring it up. I assumed that this would have been discussed, and it wasn't.”

Co-host Gayle King pushed Luntz as to why he did that, wondering: “But aren't they following your lead, Frank? Aren't you leading the discussion?”

Luntz responded by giving his reasoning for not doing so: 

I ask the opening question and I let them go. That's why I barely participate in my own focus groups and I want to know what's on their minds and what matters to them. The idea that they would bring up that she cries, we haven’t discussed that.

It grew even worse when he admitted that he thinks Hillary Clinton will win the election in 2016: 

The key for her is humanity. People think she's a leader and in fact, I still think and I'll make a projection now that she is elected president. Her key is whether she understands, emphasizes, that she knows the concerns of people who live paycheck to paycheck cause it's been a long time since she's engaged people that way. 

In debates, discussions, or focus groups, it’s certainly fair to play devil’s advocate, but when the questions clearly skew in one direction, red flags should be raised.

The relevant portions of the transcript from March 6's CBS This Morning are transcribed below.

CBS This Morning
March 6, 2015
8:06 p.m. [TEASE]

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Ahead; Clinton in Focus]

O’DONNELL: Ahead, describing Hillary Clinton in the wake of her email controversy. A CBS News focus group talks about her qualifications to be the first female president.

(....)

8:12 a.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Clinton Email Controversy; Gov’t to Pour Through Thousands of Messages]

O’DONNELL: Government officials say it could take months to examine all of Hillary Clinton's emails from her days as Secretary of State. Clinton says she wants the messages released. Some critics say using her private account for official business makes her look like she had something to hide. While the controversy threatens to overshadow Clinton’s preparations for a likely presidential campaign, CBS News contributor and Republican strategist Frank Luntz gathered voters last night to gather some of their opinions of the potential Democratic front-runner. 

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Hillary in Focus; Group Shares Opinions on Clinton Ahead of 2016]

FRANK LUNTZ: So, let me ask you to give me a phrase describing Hillary Clinton. 

(....)

LUNTZ: The first female president, does that matter to you? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3: Not at all. 

LUNTZ: It does matter to you, the first female president?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1: It does matter, but why Hillary? Why not Condoleezza Rice?

(....)

LUNTZ: How many of you thought that Bill Clinton was a good president, raise your hands. [12+ hands raised out of 20] Ok, so the vast majority of you. So, isn't it a positive that she would be following him? 

(....)

LUNTZ: She’s been a U.S. Senator, she’s been Secretary of State, First Lady, isn't she the most qualified candidate? 

(....)

LUNTZ: So when you hear these people criticize her, why do you think they are? 

(....) 

O’DONNELL: Frank Luntz is with us this morning. Good morning, so what stood out the most? 

LUNTZ: That I heard nothing new, that we could have conducted this group three, four years ago and the same positive comments and the same criticisms would have been spoken in exactly the same language. I didn't ask them about emails. I thought they would bring it up. I didn't ask them about her comments when she left office that she was poor. I assumed that this would have been discussed, and it wasn't. 

KING: But aren't they following your lead, Frank? Aren't you leading the discussion? 

LUNTZ: One of the things that I do is I ask the opening question and I let them go. That's why I barely participate in my own focus groups and I want to know what's on their minds and what matters to them. The idea that they would bring up that she cries, we haven’t discussed that.

KING: As a negative.

LUNTZ: As a negative, right. 

KING: That’s surprising.

LUNTZ: We haven’t talked about that in forever, and by the way, in the polling it actually demonstrated that it helped her. The key for her is humanity. People think she's a leader and in fact, I still think and I'll make a projection now that she is elected president. Her key is whether she understands, emphasizes, that she knows the concerns of people who live paycheck to paycheck cause it's been a long time since she's engaged people that way.

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