Luntz’s London Lessons for Hillary Clinton

Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz has an interesting op-ed on last week’s surprising UK election in today’s Washington Post. The surprise was not that the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, won but rather their overwhelming margin of victory. Nearly every pre-election poll had the governing Tories in a dead heat with Labour and turnout – Luntz thought – was likely to be low.
Yet the Conservatives emerged with nearly 100 votes more than their loyal opposition and the percentage of voters turnout increased since the last general election in 2010.

Luntz offers three lessons from the erroneous polls. 1) How voters perceive the economy is critical.  2) Citizens ultimately do care about elections. 3) The level of trust that a candidate engenders is along with the economy paramount. Let’s examine each lesson and see if we can glean any insights into the the Presidential election coming up next year with specific reference to front-runner Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

It’s the economy stupid. In many ways the British economy has mirrored ours over the past five years. As of January 21, unemployment in the UK was at 5.8% its lowest level in 6 years. Likewise, real wages are rising albeit slowly. This record was enough for the British electorate to maintain confidence in the management ability of the Tories. For Democrat Hillary Clinton, this is undeniably a good sign as the United States has benefited from 62 straight months of job growth under the Democratic Obama administration and real wages are rising here. With the numbers showing our economy moving in the right direction, Presidential voters are likely to resist a change in party.

Voters care about elections. This lesson is perhaps the least apparent of Luntz’s takeaways. The percentage of voters rose only 1% despite a hotly contested election. Still turnout at over 66% was the highest number since 1997. So – and this is where Hillary Rodham Clinton should really sit up and pay attention – what policies did the prevailing Tories champion that apparently motivated so many Britons to vote for them?

With respect to economic policy, the victorious David Cameron campaigned as a populist sometimes to the left of Labour. For example, Cameron called for an extension of the “right to buy” home ownership policy which makes public sector working-class rental apartments available for long-time tenants to purchase at below-market rates. He also promised to support exempting minimum wages from income tax and to increase to 30 hours per week the amount of free childcare available to working-class families. In contrast, Labour opposed extending “right to buy” on the ground that it reduced available housing for lower-income Brits and supported “only” 25 hours of weekly free childcare.

Perhaps the most salient difference between the Tories and Labour was their stance on the UK’s membership in the European Union (EU). If reelected, Cameron promised to hold a referendum on whether to leave the EU. In contrast, Labour leader Ed Milliband campaigned against withdrawal.

The lessons here for Hillary Clinton seem abundantly clear. She should not fear moving left to head off progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders. Instead, she is likely to benefit from adopting a more populist tone in support of more widespread home ownership, tax relief for low-income Americans, and perhaps most importantly against the Trans Pacific Partnership – which can be fairly seen as a proto-European Union.

Trust is paramount. Luntz notes that pre-election, pollsters reported that just as many voters said that they would vote for Labour as the Conservatives. But he also points out that a significantly greater number of likely voters said they trusted Cameron more than Milliband. From this discrepancy, Luntz conjectures that when likely voters say they find one candidate significantly less honest that candidate may underperform. It is easy to see why a Republican operative would argue the criticality of a candidate’s credibility since this may be Hillary Clinton’s greatest weakness.

The latest CBS/New York Times poll offers positive and negative news for Clinton on this front. 80% of Democrats but only 48% of the electorate as a whole find her to be honest and trustworthy. While Luntz is a partisan Republican, his advice to Clinton is spot on. He recommends that in her upcoming testimony before Congress on Benghazi and her email practices while Secretary of State and after, she needs to present a wholly forthcoming and transparent demeanor.

Conclusion. Hillary Clinton and her supporters should view the surprisingly large Tory victory in the just-concluded British election with cautious optimism and go to school on it as well. Just as the British kept the party in power that has overseen a reasonably strong recovery, the American electorate is very likely to favor the Democratic Presidential nominee next year. To the extent a viable liberal challenger emerges, Clinton can probably move in a more populist direction without much risk of alienating other supporters. Finally a gentle suggestion: Clinton’s credibility received a needed boost when she replaced her former campaign manager oily Mark Penn with highly regarded progressive John Podesta. Now, she needs to lose hitman David Brock and fixer Lanny Davis. Every time one of them speaks for Clinton, their duplicity rubs off on her.

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4 Responses to Luntz’s London Lessons for Hillary Clinton

  1. Shade 2 says:

    Are you trying to completely lose your weekly interview with a representative from Media Matters? LOL.

    I enjoy listening to the perspective from Media Matters, but I agree (and am disappointed) that occasionally they are not honest brokers and they just provide misleading spin. I hate to hear that, as it leads me to question everything else they say too.

    BTW, my primary email address (less the +rm) is apparently blocked from posting in the forums. (I didn’t even try it for this post.) I previously created the new email address just so I could get my posts through.
    I know your system is getting the posts from my primary email address because if I submit a post from Chrome & then again from Explorer, Explorer recognizes the attempted duplicate post. I think you might have tried once to allow my posts w/o moderation, but accidently permanently sent them to spam. Can you try to unblock my primary email addr? (Don’t post what was sent to spam though, as all have already been redone & successfully sent. Truthfully, the extra time allowed me to reread what I attempted to post and say things better. That’s the problem with posting w/o an edit button. Time is of the essence in responses to posts, but for best quality, one should always sleep on response before sending it.)

    You can remove these last paragraphs, but I do wonder if any others are getting blocked w/o your knowledge. If so, they might not complain… but they might not ever come back either. Which reminds me, what ever happened to Dave/Dav and the other poster (name forgotten) from out of the U.S.? Jeff appeared just as Dave left, but his perspective is enough different that I don’t think they are one and the same. (Jeff isn’t obsessed with 911.)

    • jeff linder says:

      I can assure you Shade, that I am not Dave/Dav…whomever that may be. I am, however, fascinated with 9/11 conspiracy advocates.

  2. halginsberg says:

    Thanks Shade. Weird. I don’t know why any address would be blocked. I certainly didn’t block yours . . . or anybody’s. We don’t have a blocked email list. I will forward this to tech support.

  3. Barbara Burchjolla says:


    I have been paid to participate in many of his sessions. They can be very interesting. In fact, I met him not long ago.


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