Frank Luntz is a former US pollster who does work with focus groups. His work is highly regarding and he is extremely sought after. Almost this time last last, he took a mix of rock solid Tories and swing voters and displayed the Tory challengers for Howard's crown. They dismissed Sir Malcolm Rifkind, disliked Ken Clarke, boosted Liam Fox and threw cole water on David Davis. However, they put a rocket up David Cameron's campaign and that episode of Newsnight was said to have been the lift-off that Campaign Cameron needed. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tonight he did the same for 6 potential Labour leaders - 4 cabinet ministers in Chancellor Gordon Brown, Education Secretary Alan Johnson, Home Secretary Dr John Reid and Environment Secretary David Milliband. They also included Blairite former Health Secretary Alan Milburn and left-wing backbencher John McDonnell. At the start they seemed to plump for Brown and Reid as the two people they had heard of. But after they were given biogs, the group split between Brown, Reid and Johnson. After watching videos, they slammed Brown for being old, Scottish and assoicated with the past. They said Johnson was too left-wing, but Reid was tough and speaking their language. By the end, Reid was the run-a-way winner.
I'm sure that people have their views, but I strongly dislike this form of focus group. There was definitely a bandwagon effect, with Reid gathering votes by being popular. They also seemed to suffer from voters having no idea what was going on - or making strange switches. All this means that we have to doubt their part in this exercise. Two examples spring to mind.
First of all was the guy in black who said how impressed he was with Brown, but began by saying he'd back Johnson. He ended up with Brown ... via Reid.
The second was the elderly lady at the front. She began by backing McDonnell on the basis of his photo and biog. Then she said Alan Johnson was too much like a trade union leader ... and ended up voting for Reid.
All nice stuff for us political hacks, but I'm afriad I don't believe a word of it.