The Harper Index

Luntz, Frank – Republican strategist appears to drive Harper's communications

Media and communications direction changed after March 2006 visit.

Pollster Frank Luntz, Republican spin guruIn May 2006, Stephen Harper announced he would no longer be giving news conferences to the national media. He said that, "Unfortunately, the press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government."

"They don't ask questions at my press conferences now. We'll just take the message out on the road. There's lots of media who do want to ask questions and hear what the government is doing," he said.

"Harper's new policy appears to come directly from the media strategy playbook of US president George W Bush, sidestep the so-called hostile national media and play to a more receptive local media." according to Bill Berkowitz of Inter Press Services. "Interestingly enough, Harper's announcement came less than two weeks after meeting with Republican strategist and pollster Frank Luntz."

The meeting with Luntz was an important moment in the political evolution of Harper and the Conservatives, although Luntz, apparently, had advised Canadian right-wingers as far back as Manning and the Reform Party. He spoke at the annual meeting of the Civitas Society, a low-key but influential Conservative group that has been described as "a society for conservative and libertarian academics, think-tankers, lobbyists and journalists."

Elizabeth Thompson of the Montreal Gazette reported that Luntz, whose speech "Massaging the Conservative Message for Voters" offered Civitas members tips on how to obtain a majority for Stephen Harper's Conservative Party in the next federal election in Canada.

For example, Thompson wrote, "'Focus on accountability and tax relief', said Mr Luntz. 'Images and pictures are important. Tap into national symbols such as hockey.

'If there is some way to link hockey to what you all do, I would try to do it.'"

Julie Mason wrote in the Ottawa Citizen (March 5, 2006), that the language of Ralph Klein's Alberta health care plan "is no accident. It's built on years of work by Frank Luntz, an American pollster and communications adviser who's made a living out of telling Republicans how to talk about something that people don't want in ways that make them think they do want it. Mr Luntz got George Bush re-elected, and he's now helping him dismantle social security and destroy the fragile US Medicare system."

Mason continued, "Mr Luntz's focus is using language to evoke feeling. 'My job is to look for the words that trigger the emotion. Words alone can be found in a dictionary or a telephone book, but words with emotion can change destiny, can change life as we know it.'"

Harper Conservative vs. Public Values Frame
  Tax relief / Quality public services & fair taxes
  Responsible Exploration For Energy / Drilling for oil
  "Healthy Forests Initiative" / Bush admin policies that favour expanded logging
  Energy exploration / Oil drilling

Links and sources
  Republican Über-Strategist Takes Canada for a Spin, by Bill Berkowitz, Inter Press Service News Agency
  Harper Cuts Equality Funds, Frames it as a Lawyer Joke, by Ish Theilheimer, Straight Goods.
  Beware Luntzspeak, by Bill Berkowitz, for mediatransparency.org.
  How the Left Should Frame Issues: Harper's team is expert at word games, by Murray Dobbin
  http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Civitas_Society
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Luntz
  George Strompolopoulos interviews Frank Luntz, May 28, 2007
  Conservatives aim for 'the political brain': experts, Simon Doyle, The Hill Times, June 18th, 2007

Posted: May 10, 2007

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