Right after last night's Republican Fox News debate, Frank Luntz appeared to demonstrate that, based on his focus group of New Hampshire Republicans, Mitt Romney was the big winner.
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But as Josh pointed out, the group's unanimity of opinion and blind insistence on Romney's rout had a suspicious air to it.
Along those lines, a number of bloggers have pointed out that one man in the focus group actually appeared in a prior Luntz Fox News focus group four months prior. Both were gatherings in New Hampshire (at the same Manchester, New Hampshire restaurant, it appears) of approximately 30 New Hampshire voters -- according to the lead-in last night, Luntz's group were registered Republican undecideds. Although Luntz doesn't identify the man by name in both segments, he's easily identifiable through his appearance and voice -- either that, or he's got an identical twin.
While this isn't necessarily evidence that Luntz has used actors or plants in his segments, it "says there's something sloppy at best about his recruitment process, Mark Blumenthal, a veteran of the polling business and founder of Pollster.com, told me. "If you see a respondent show up twice, it's a sign of professional respondents leaking through."
But when I spoke to Luntz today, he said that he uses repeat participants by design. In a segment to air on Fox News tonight, he said, there should be a "bunch of people" who had been in prior focus groups, some of them participating as early as May of last year. "It allows me to see how people's opinion have changed over time," he explained. "I'm trying to isolate that moment that made the difference."
When asked about the charge that he'd used actors or plants, his already rapid speech accelerated: "That's ridiculous.... I'm sure that the person who said that doesn't have a PhD, probably doesn't have a masters, and doesn't know what they're talking about."
He's conducting a "study of human behavior" with his dial tests (a mechanism that registers viewers' moment by moment reaction) he said, not a traditional focus group. And if you "want to understand how people change their points of view, you have to ask them over time and multiple times. This is how social biologists do it. This is anthropology.... If you're goal is to study how opinions change over time, of course you've got to call them back."