Luntz: Communication is Key to Repairing Government

Former Massachusetts state Sen. Scott Brown was on the defensive.

His political opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, released an attack ad criticizing Brown’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat last year, attacking his Republican politics as well as his time in the state senate.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, left, and South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds talked with media guru Frank Luntz during CSG's Economic Summit of the States.
Photo By Suzanne Feliciano

But rather than respond negatively to Coakley’s attacks, Brown chose a more subdued response, defending himself while appearing on television in a sweater. The understated message helped portray Brown as a legislator who shared voters’ values and was willing to listen, political pollster Frank Luntz said during The Council of State Governments’ Economic Summit of the States May 22.

Indeed, crafting the right words and communicating clear messages can help both legislators and business leaders improve their relations with the public, Luntz said.

In a wide-ranging two-hour session, Luntz explained the need for legislators and business leaders to improve their image with the public—a public that has grown increasingly angry and divided from politics. 

“The reason why they’re so angry is because you’re not hearing them,” Luntz said.  “And so they shout louder.”

Luntz, a political consultant, is the author of What Americans Really Want … Really: The Truth About Our Hopes, Dreams and Fears, and appears as a consultant on the Fox News Channel. He is also the chief executive of the Word Doctors, an image management company.

Luntz released figures that he said reflected Americans’ distaste for political partisanship, as well as their dark opinions toward the future.  About 44 percent of Americans believe that the next generation will be worse off than the current one, for example.

Similarly, about 57 percent believe that the U.S. Congress is “dishonest,” while 53 percent believe that politicians are “out of touch” with Americans, according to Luntz.

“To everyone in this room—and me, because I’m the pollster—we’re all the problem,” he said.

But legislators and business leaders can repair that image, through media management and the way they communicate, he said.

Luntz said that words such as “government takeover,” “peace of mind,” and “accountability” can help legislators and business leaders better sell their messages to voters and constituents.  Legislators frequently discuss job creation, when Americans are more interested in building careers, for example.

In addition, Americans have grown displeased with the word “capitalism,” but are more likely to react favorably to the words “economic freedom” or “free enterprise,” he said. “You change the name, you change the dynamic,” Luntz said.

The audience, which included legislators and governors from CSG’s member states, participated throughout the two-hour session, often asking questions about immigration reform and education.

“I thought the point that he was making that people were feeling like they weren’t being heard by government, I thought was very helpful,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Chris Ross, co-chair of the Eastern Regional Conference’s Energy and Environment Committee. 

Ross said Luntz echoed his own beliefs that government officials need to promote more bipartisanship, as well as the “the importance of being positive about ways that we’re going to realistically make things better.”

But the discussion wasn’t just about politics.  Luntz also stressed the need for parents to develop healthier relationships with their children and outlined the six ways that parents can better grow healthier children.

Some of those ways included checking their children’s homework, taking a cell phone-free weekly vacation with families and participating in their children’s team sports.