“It’s not what you say that matters,” said Republican political strategist and pollster Frank Luntz last night in Huntsman Hall. “It’s what people hear.”
The College Republicans invited Luntz, a 1984 College graduate, as the speaker for one of their major events of this semester.
As College junior and College Republicans President Arielle Klepach said, “We are trying to represent the more moderate members of the Republican Party … Luntz reinforced our ideas by speaking about appealing to a wider base instead of tailoring a message for just the one percent.”
Opening his talk, Luntz was anything but soft-spoken and wasn’t afraid to speak out against prominent politicians. He even cracked some jokes about Nancy Pelosi’s facelifts and former President Jimmy Carter.
However, his criticism also extended to his own party. “We can’t talk to 51 percent of America,” he said, “it just doesn’t work.”
Luntz began his presentation with a picture of a frog resting in the mouth of an alligator. He asked the audience “Does the frog live or die?” and quickly revealed that the frog lived. He followed up by asking, “How does it survive?”
He encouraged audience members to guess the correct answer based on the incorrect suggestions that came before.
After no one guessed correctly, Luntz said, “You need to listen — if you listen you will find the faults in someone’s argument and find the right answer.”
Spoiler alert: The alligator was dead, but that’s beside the point. As Luntz explained throughout his talk, voters listen to language. For example, Americans respond better to the phrase “hardworking taxpayers” than “the middle class.” In addition, they want to hear about a “healthy economy” instead of “economic growth.”
Luntz said that there are paradoxes everywhere in politics, but American voters don’t necessarily think rationally. He explained that the Democratic Party is the party more likely to raise taxes, but they’re known as the party that represents the middle class.
Thus, in order to appeal to a wide base, politicians need to know what different people consider most important, Luntz said. While men say they want more money, he explained, women say they want more time.
“These are the attributes that matter — not taxes, not global warming. This is day-to-day life,” he said.
Luntz’s gift for using language to political ends has earned him the respect of Democrats.
“I’m a Democrat,” College freshman Robert Klein said, “but Luntz is such a brilliant strategist and one of the smartest Republicans I’ve ever seen.”
While Luntz has garnered bipartisan praise for his language skills and political strategies, he still fears for his party’s future.
He warned Republicans in the audience that unless their party grows more unified, it could lose its majority in the House of Representatives in 2014.
Luntz believes now that both the major parties are more polarized than ever.
“These days we seek things that divide us, but we are first and foremost Americans,” he said.