Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham on the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's moral principles and political leadership -- and what the era of Lincoln can teach us about the state of our democracy today.
Republicans vying to become their party’s 2016 presidential nominee take the stage Tuesday night in Las Vegas for a fifth televised debate. In Iowa, Ted Cruz leads Donald Trump in the polls, but Trump remains the clear Republican front runner nationally. Many say it’s because he’s been so adept at tapping into widespread voter discontent. Polls suggest that nearly half of all Republicans believe America’s best days are behind us. But it’s not just Republicans: Nearly half of Democrats share this view as well. Economic and social changes in the U.S. have translated into growth but seem to have also left many voters in both parties deeply troubled. Diane and guests discuss voter discontent and the demographic trends driving the 2016 presidential race.
- Alec MacGillis Reporter, ProPublica
- Stanley Greenberg Pollster and political analyst chair and CEO, Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research
- Frank Luntz President, Luntz Global author of "Win: The Key Principles To Take Your Business From Ordinary to Extraordinary"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Donald Trump will once again be center stage tonight as 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls gather in Las Vegas for a fifth debate. With blunt talk and showmanship, Trump appeals to voters who feel increasingly marginalized, but there's discontent among Democrats as well. Joining me to talk about voter sentiment and why the 2016 presidential candidates from both parties need to pay close attention, Alec MacGillis of ProPublica, Stanley Greenberg, Democratic pollster and political analyst.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd joining us from a studio at Nevada Public Radio in Las Vegas, Republican strategist, Frank Luntz. Throughout the hour, I'll be interested to hear your comments. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. ALEC MACGILLISThank you, Diane.
MR. STANLEY GREENBERGThank you, delighted to be here.
REHMGood to have you all with us. Alec, I'll start with you. In a recent piece you wrote titled "Who Turned My Red State Blue," you describe some apparent contradictions. What's going on?
MACGILLISWhat's going on is that you have some formerly blue states like Kentucky, parts of the country like eastern Kentucky, rural Maine, that used to be more Democratic that are very heavily reliant on the safety net and have become more reliant on the safety net as these parts of the country are struggling. And what you're seeing is that these parts of the country are more and more voting Republican. And it poses this big question, why are these areas that rely so much on the safety net voting for Republicans who are very much opposed to that safety net and often want to shred it, explicitly, you know, vow to shred it, as just happened in Kentucky when they elected a governor who opposed the Medicaid expansion there.
MACGILLISAnd what I sort of put forth in this piece is the argument that what's happening in these places is not that these people who most rely on the safety net in these place are voting for Republicans and voting against their own interests, which is the way it's often described, what's in fact happening is that these people are, by and large, not voting. The lower income folks in lots of these parts of the country have become so disconnected from the political and civic process that we can't even really conceive of it.
MACGILLISJust how out of the loop they've really gotten. The people who are voting more and more Republican, I would argue, are the people who are a notch or two up the ladder in these communities who are more and more upset at what they see as the growing dependency around them in their own communities, even among their own families. And out of that resentment, they are more and more voting Republican.
REHMStan Greenberg, is that how you see it? Do you agree with that assessment?
GREENBERGWell, I do believe engagement and disengagement is what's happening. You have conservatives very, very mobilized and energized, getting very energized by what they are seeing in the country and they're turning out in high numbers in all three elections. They're following these primaries, you know, very closely. And if you look in our polls, that's where your highest level of interest is. But if you look at the Democratic base, you do see a lot of voters who are disengaging.
REHMAnd Frank Luntz, what about some of the major demographic changes in the country? What are some of them that are driving these contradictions even among Republican voters? Frank Luntz? Oh, he's not hearing me. Okay. Let's see if we can get Frank Luntz back on. I wonder whether you think other Republican candidates, Alec, beside Donald Trump are going to be picking up on the economic discouragement that so many people feel.
MACGILLISOh, definitely. I mean, this is -- you see Republicans across the country, more and more, tapping into this. And not just in the presidential race. I mean, Trump is the person who's doing it most obviously in the presidential race, but you saw it again in this recent Kentucky governor's election. In Maine, there's a really remarkable story going on in Maine these past couple of years. We have a governor of Maine, this Paul LePage, who governed quite erratically in his first term.
MACGILLISI mean, a lot of people sort of made fun of him for kind of wild things he said. He got reelected last year, granted in a three-way race, but he got reelected by running on a very, very, very harsh anti-welfare platform. The entire heart of his message is an anti-welfare message. And this resonated in this state that has become more and more dependent on various safety net programs. This is something that Republicans have become quite good at tapping into across the country.
REHMDo Democrats feel the same way, Stan?
GREENBERGWell, they need to be sensitive to it because if you look at what's happening in the country, you have income stagnating, wages stagnating and that's across the board whether you're dealing with Democratic voters or Republican voters and it gets expressed in different ways. If you look at the battle in the Republican primary, you look at white working class voters, particularly men, they're the ones who are rallying to Trump more than anyone else and to his message. And he's standing up for American jobs, he's standing up on immigration and he's standing up on a range of issues that respond to why they feel marginalized in this system.
GREENBERGBut it runs across the board. If you look at the white working class today, a majority are women. The new jobs don't pay like the jobs of the past, don't have the security of the past.
GREENBERGThere's issues with equal pay, issues with child care in which there's been no, you know, changes in law that would be of providing more of a safety net. And those voters are discontented, even though they tend to vote Democratic. Right now, you know, 60 percent of them are saying the country's on the wrong track because the economy just doesn't match the macro economy that people were talking about in the last...
REHMBut, you know, in your new book, you say that Republicans are in a long term demographic death spiral.
GREENBERGIt's a spiral which I think is gonna happen before you leave this show. What I've argued is that they've -- the trends are so dramatic and are producing a new majority at such a rapid rate nationally that they are fighting the trends. It's not just that they are misaligned. They are engaging in a counter revolution so when they're taking these positions, like on Muslims, like on immigration, it's because they're losing those issues, you know, not because there's a constituency for them outside the party.
GREENBERGThis is about the party and I think we're at a shattering moment.
REHMAll right. Let's see if we can get Frank Luntz in on that comment or is he still not with us? Sadly, still don't have him. All right. There have been voters who would likely support Democrats coming to the polls, are there not?
GREENBERGThere are. If a Donald Trump ran with an agenda of standing up for America jobs, you know, dealing with immigration as, you know, part of, you know, posing the trade agreements that the elites are supporting, I can see him beginning to win some support, even though right now, he doesn't do very well in the polls, he's making the case on the behalf of the white working class, which is very marginalized, both men and women. This is not just a male issue. It's a women's issue as well.
REHMAnd what about Hillary Clinton? Is she able to tap into the honest feelings of discontent, Alec?
MACGILLISShe might be somewhat more able to than Barack Obama has, you know, you think back to the 2008 primaries when she sort of cast herself as the sort of the white working class voters' hero in that race against Obama and she was definitely stronger in these parts of the country, like Appalachia and working class Ohio, Pennsylvania. That said, she was able to have that kind of appeal, partly because she was a foil against Barack Obama. Whether she's able to really break free of where he's been with these voters, it's tough to say.
MACGILLISThe fact is that other Democrats running for Senate and governor, offices like that, have been doing -- have really been struggling in these parts of the country as well in recent years. It hasn't just been Obama. And, of course, Obama is, in some sense, dragging them down. But whether you're going to see the Democrats really rebound in these places, it depends in large part on whether they're actually willing to really -- to give it a shot with these voters. Democrats have, in a lot of places, kind of written off some of these voters in these regions because they don't really need them anymore for the national presidential electoral map.
MACGILLISBut they do need them for elections for Senate and Congress and governor. It's tough for the Democrats to implement that sort of national agenda, when they're so weak down the ladder. You see it in Kentucky. If the Kentucky governor now decides to get rid of Obamacare, there goes a major part of the Democratic agenda in this one state. So you need to keep trying with these voters.
REHMYou bet. Stan?
GREENBERGLook, I do think Hillary Clinton can speak to it, but I want to step back because I believe Barack Obama will be viewed as an excellent president. Historic things on rescuing the economy, the global economy, the Affordable Care Act and universal coverage, important foreign policy initiatives around Cuba, et cetera. But he's been silent on the big structural economic changes facing the country, particularly the issues facing the white working class, the working class in the country, and has not really articulated for them what is the core problem and where he would turn. And on this issue, Hillary Clinton is speaking.
REHMStan Greenberg, he's pollster and political analyst, chair and CEO of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research. Short break here, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here in the studio, Alec MacGinnis -- I keep saying MacGinnis and it's MacGillis. He's a reporter for ProPublica. Stan Greenberg is pollster and political analyst. And finally, joining us from a studio in Las Vegas, Frank Luntz, president of Luntz Global. And, Frank, I'm sure you would have wanted to jump in on many of the comments already made. I want to give you a chance to do so. What kind of health do you see currently in the Republican Party? I'm not hearing him. Oh, my goodness. We truly are having problems this morning and...
MR. FRANK LUNTZ...with you.
REHM...I am so sorry.
LUNTZI'm still not with you.
REHMWhat kind...what kind of health, Alec, do you see in today's Republican Party?
MACGILLISWell, again, the Party is, you know, in the presidential years, is facing a real dilemma. It's a major demographic dilemma and they've got this map that they're dealing with that is -- it's just really hard to see how they're going to overcome this.
REHMWorking against them.
MACGILLISWorking against them. That said, you are -- they are going to keep, for a while now, they're going to keep doing quite well in mid terms, because we have this completely different electorate in mid-term years. And what seems like the most likely outcome for the next decade or so is a divided government, with Democrats holding the White House and Republicans holding at least one branch of Congress and holding a lot -- lots of state houses and legislatures down around the country. And we're -- and it's quite possible that we're just going to have to learn to live with this kind of deeply divided, sort of constitutionally divided government.
REHMStan Greenberg, with a Donald Trump, a businessman with no government experience at all, leading in the national polls for Republicans, what does that say about the Republican Party as a whole?
GREENBERGWell, what he represents is kind of the anger, the frustration of a Republican Party that thinks it's been losing to a Barack Obama and to the dominant trends in the country. And so there is great anger with their own leaders. They want leaders who can win. They, you know, they think their leaders have not stopped Obama. He's governing on his own, even though they have the Congress. And so there's huge frustration. There's also, by the way, other frustration. This is a divided party. Their moderates, within the Republican Party, they are -- they resent the religious dominance of the evangelicals in the party. Their more pro-choice.
GREENBERGBut they have, you know, they have nobody who's speaking for them. They did have Romney as a candidate. They did have McCain as a candidate.
REHMBoth of whom lost.
GREENBERGIn the end, lost the election. But there, you know, there's no candidate right now in the Republican primary who's trying to appeal to those moderate voters that are looking for someone who says, I'm for small government and I'm for national security. I'm for low taxes. But I resent government intervening in my personal life. And they -- but there's nobody jumping into that...
REHMWhat about governor Kasich? Where does he fall in that whole picture?
GREENBERGYou know he's -- look, he's a pro-life Republican. He's running on that he's a responsible, successful person governing. Look, we watched with Jeb Bush, this is an angry electorate. They think they're on the...
GREENBERGWell, no, no. Well, two-thirds of the country think the country's headed on the wrong track, so.
GREENBERGSo this is going to be a change election. And so, you know...
GREENBERGWell, look, it'll be a different kind of change. It'll be a change from Obama, I think, on domestic issues. Because the issues that we've been talking about -- the economic issues, the whole range of issues, social issues, breakdown of family, kids be, rise of poverty, kids being raised by single parents -- there's a whole range of issues that have been building. But, you know, leaders have not spoken to those problems and not addressed them. And I do think, on the Democratic side, there's a, you know, Hillary Clinton, and I think gets that and understands that.
GREENBERGRight now the battle in the Republican Party is a -- it's a separate movie, you know, that's playing out, I think, to a conclusion, you know, that will be played out after the -- November.
REHMAlec, you're nodding.
MACGILLISOh, definitely. I mean, the disaffection is so deep. I do think that one thing we need to keep in mind when we think about this disaffection though -- and this is something I tried to get at in my piece -- is just how regional it is. We talk so much about inequality in this country, inequality between the classes and the 1 percent and all the rest of us, we don't talk enough about regional inequality in this country and just how certain parts of the country -- like the one we're sitting in right now, Washington, D.C. -- are doing so, so much better than other parts of the country. And you have whole swaths of the country that really do feel left behind.
MACGILLISThe gaps between various regions, various cities, are growing much wider than they used to be. And when we talk about, you know, why, and we think, why are voters -- why are voters feeling so angry when the economy's actually not doing all that badly, you know? You look at some of the top-line numbers, they're pretty -- they're okay. It's because whole parts of the country are really still in very dire straits. And we don't talk about that enough, we don't think about these parts of the country.
REHMI feel as though I've been apologizing all morning long. But, now, I want to get Frank Luntz into this conversation, for you to talk about Stan Greenberg's comment that Republicans are in a long-term, demographic death spiral.
LUNTZWell, now I know what it's like to be silenced.
REHMNot purposely, I promise you.
LUNTZI feel like the voter scorned at this moment. I understand all that Trump frustration, so. But, it's like, I feel like I'm at a Trump rally, where I finally get a chance to be hard.
REHMHere you are.
LUNTZSo, I've heard this same comment going all the way back to Bill Clinton in 1992. And if you go and look at the research in The New York Times and Washington Post, they've reported the same thing that Stan has said. Every time that a Democrat does well, it's always that there is a Republican death spiral. Let's start with two key facts. Number one, Republicans have more seats in the House than they've had since the 1920s -- one short of the record number of seats they've had in the Senate. They actually have 30 governorships, which is one short of the all-time record. They have more legislators in the state houses and state senates than they've ever had, more control over more legislatures than they've ever had.
LUNTZOne could argue that the only weakness that the GOP has right now is the presidency. But separate from that, the comments that both of your guests made are very appropriate in terms of the anger and the division and the divisiveness in American politics. And both Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right are playing into that divisiveness. The key is not to listen to the candidates, but to listen to the voters. And one final point, when you listen to the voters, it's not just an issue of anger. We've heard that so many times.
LUNTZWhat it really is, is a sense of betrayal, that Washington has made promises to them in terms of benefits and government programs and taxes, so many things Washington -- and, by the way, and Washington almost promised -- also promised to keep us safe. When we feel that Washington has broken those promises, that's what makes us angry. When we feel betrayed, that's what turns us off to the entire political system.
REHMFrank, I know you've been talking to some very small groups, getting their ideas. What are you hearing from them?
LUNTZThat the amazing this is the Trump voters are among the most optimistic of any. And the reason why they're so optimistic is that they actually believe -- and I make no comment on that belief -- but they actually believe that Donald Trump will turn the country around. And as long as you believe that your vote matters, as long as you believe that you're being heard, and as long as you believe that your candidate can actually succeed, that turns you into an optimist. They are the one bright cloud in a very, very dark situation.
REHMWhy are you making no comment on their comment?
LUNTZBecause I don't believe that a pollster's job is to allow their own personal beliefs to get in the way. And I think it's very tough to do. And Stan will tell you that it's a challenge for us in our profession. But what we want and what we see are two different things. And it is our responsibility to keep our own personal desires separate from how we analyze the American people.
REHMStan, how successful are you at that?
GREENBERGWell, let me speak to the data...
GREENBERG...to the facts. If we look at the groups that are growing -- and this goes to your earlier point about what's happening in the country -- if you look at the racial minorities, if you look at single women, unmarried women, if you look at the secular voters, you look at millennials, that block was 51 percent of the last election. They will be 63 percent of this electorate. Maybe it's off by a point or two. But it's a huge change that's coming -- happening at a rapid pace.
GREENBERGBut I didn't make this prediction of the new majority a decade ago. The reason this is happening, because the trends are accelerating, because America is changing, disruptive changes are changing America, and also because the Republicans are fighting the trends. In other words, if they were co-opting some of these trends, you know, accepting, you know, reaching out to some of the immigrant groups -- immigration is like the biggest change taking place in the country -- 40 percent of New York City is foreign born. So the -- you're dealing with huge changes in the country and that's why the Republicans are fighting it.
GREENBERGBut that's why I think that when this election is over, I think they will -- there will be a new game. The Republican Party is not going to continue, I think, in this same road.
LUNTZWell, again, I -- if you want to talk about facts, you have to look at what happened in the 2014 election, where Republicans won everything. Imagine this, Diane: a Republican governor of Massachusetts, a Republican governor of Maryland, a Republican governor of Barack Obama's home state of Illinois. These are impossible. I, by the way, let me acknowledge, I got it wrong. Because I didn't see just how big a Republican landslide would happen. But let me give Stan -- Stan is correct. The demographics are shifting but they're not shifting as anti-conservative as they are as anti-Republican. That a lot of these immigrants are right-of-center politically, even if they don't identify with the Republican Party.
REHMAlec, would you agree?
MACGILLISYeah, I'm not sure about that. The -- after the last, after 2012, there was this big sort of moment of reckoning for the party, for the Republican Party, where the RNC put out the big report talking about how the base needed to deal with this new reality. They needed to deal with the new demographics that were headed down the pike. And basically that they needed to deal with immigration. And the big political story over the past few years is that that hasn't happened. And, in fact, what we're seeing now is the exact opposite. The rhetoric in this campaign has really headed in the other direction where we're not talking about birthright citizenship and things like this that are even further right of what was being talked about last time.
REHMOkay. So what you're saying is that they did not learn the lessons of the 2012 election.
MACGILLISThey did not. They had the chance to do so in...
REHMEven though, as Frank says, they swept the country in terms of governorships, state legislatures, houses, house seats and the like?
MACGILLISThey had a moment in 2013 to 2014 where they could have addressed it. And very fatefully, the House, you know, Speaker John Boehner decided not to proceed with some kind of a comprehensive immigration package that had been passed in the Senate.
REHMAnd you're saying that's what could have done it?
MACGILLISThat could well have done it. That was the big fateful moment.
LUNTZNo, but you guys -- the funny thing is, you guys are now six months behind the times. What happened at San Bernardino has changed everything. The debate has moved from the economy and moved from immigration and it has moved to national security. And that's where the Republicans have a 20-point advantage.
GREENBERGWell, the -- let me go back to the -- to Frank's main point here, which is that this has been a wave election and, which Diane has underscored, in off years, in governors and state legislatures. There is a battle against the dominant trends in the country, which includes immigration. They have nationalized each election, centered around Obama, I'm sure it'll be around Hillary Clinton, as they have engaged their voters in election after election.
GREENBERGBecause the stakes have risen. As this new majority has grown in size, the stakes in trying to stop them from governing successfully has allowed them to increase their turnout and therefore have these successful elections. I don't think that's what we're going to be looking at after '16. And I think we're looking at new dynamics.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But what I understand Frank to be saying is that terrorism has changed the whole dynamic. Am I correct, Frank?
LUNTZIt's correct. And it's -- and I do want to make the case -- because this is NPR, because this is your show -- that there are so many Americans now that are afraid. They're actually afraid in their day-to-day lives. And that our rhetoric, our language, on the left and on the right, has to be more careful. That we should be seeking to find common ground. That we should be seeking not to agitate people. That as important, as Stan says, this upcoming election is, the civility of American society is actually more important. And we have to find a way to lower the decibel level, to stop this viciousness and address the issues that all of us, all panelists, want addressed but in a way that doesn't divide people.
REHMBut, Frank, you know, that kind of sounds late coming to the table from you, if you'll forgive me for saying so, in that you framed some of, you know, pretty outlandish rhetoric.
REHMGoing back, I can't give you...
LUNTZYeah, but that's -- but here's a great example. I'll take the death tax. When is the moment -- I love doing, okay, and I've done this on NPR several times -- when is the moment that you face that tax? It's the moment, actually nine months after you die. That's why it became a death tax. I'll give you another example. Yes, I did frame education and it moved from vouchers, which is a piece of paper, to opportunity scholarships. But, Diane, if you go down the list -- performance pay rather than merit pay -- if you go down the list, all the language that I've done...
LUNTZ...has been positive. Has been -- yes, it has been to reframe, but it's been to reframe in a positive way, not a negative.
REHMAll right. You know, as Frank is speaking, we have just learned that Los Angeles Public Schools are completely closed because the governor says, or the mayor of L.A. says, there are threats to numerous schools. Is fear going to be what drives people to the polls? This year, next year, for the election, is that going to be their underlying theme, Alec?
MACGILLISThe election's still a while away so it's quite possible that things will, you know, our collective temperament will kind of calm down. I take -- Frank's point is very well, you know, very welcome about us needing to sort of ratchet things back a bit.
MACGILLISThe problem is though that we're in a campaign where the incentive for these Republican candidates is, in fact, to ratchet things up. And they are now actively trying to outdo each other in being tough and also and, frankly, in trying to outdo each other in the fear mongering, when it comes to the refugees, you know, all this talk about the dangerous refugees, so.
REHMAlec MacGillis, he's a reporter for ProPublica. Stanley Greenberg is pollster and political analyst. Frank Luntz is president of Luntz Global. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about red states and blue states and voter discontent and what's at the bottom of it. A number of our listeners and emailers, tweets are asking why we aren't talking more about Bernie Sanders, who they say is also tapping into voter discontent with the system. What do you think about that, Frank?
LUNTZI love his rallies, and I've been to several of them. It's so young. It reminds me of the 1960s. It's young, it's college.
LUNTZAnd they -- and of course I disagree with him, but it's beautiful to see the political discourse and, for the most part, except for, and you're going to need to talk about Black Lives Matter at some point before we cut out of this, but except for that, the rallies are energetic, and people walk away not angry, but they walk away with purpose, they walk away feeling that they have a voice in the political process. Bernie Sanders has absolutely tapped into a progressive stream on the left, and even if he's defeated by Hillary Clinton, I think that he's going to win Iowa, and I think that he's going to win New Hampshire, and that's going to make this an interesting race on the Democratic side.
GREENBERGWell, we write this big about him because if you look at the agenda of all of the Democratic candidates, they are very much about the issues that have not been talked about in the Obama presidency in this period, as the frustration has built up. And they are all talking about change. They're all bold. They're all talking about reform, reforming money, reforming government, dealing with the issue of wages, a system that's corrupted and broken. And so -- but Bernie Sanders is very much part of that.
GREENBERGBut it's not -- it's a very different group of voters than Trump. Trump is -- does have a working-class base, particularly men, overwhelmingly men. That's not true of Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is young. It's a millennial generation that now is equal in size to the baby boom, and that's where his support is. That's a gender base for that, not a -- you know, not a working-class base.
GREENBERGIn fact, Hillary Clinton is doing actually better with working-class voters amongst Democrats.
REHMAll right, what about Black Lives Matter, Alec?
MACGILLISWell, that's -- that is the sort of new element that has emerged in this -- in the liberal-progressive coalition, and people are still really trying to figure out what to make of it. I live in Baltimore, and right now we are bracing for the first verdict in the Freddie Gray case. The whole city is really on tenterhooks about that. And these cases are -- there are going to be six of these trials. They're going to keep coming up over the next few months. This is a new -- whole new, new debate we're having, really, in American politics about how to think about this issue of police misconduct, how to think about urban violence.
MACGILLISIt's really thorny, and people have not yet -- even Democrats have not yet figure out, really, how to talk about this.
GREENBERGThere's a political story, and then there's an American story. The political story has to do with inequality, with the rural areas being more Republican-conservative, and the urban areas, the most dense parts of the urban areas, being more Democratic. The bigger story of America is the growing inequality in our metropolitan areas. That's the big stories. If you understand what's happening in Seattle, understand what's happening in Washington, where people are talking about living wage, where people are talking about enacting, you know, paid, you know, sick days and child care support and addressing some of these issues of affordable housing, transportation to get into low-income areas, these are being debated within the metropolitan areas.
GREENBERGThat's where the highest inequality is, that's where you're getting racial isolation, and that's got to -- you know, that's not being addressed on our politics nationally, but it's the future.
LUNTZAnd what's great about this is that you now see the dynamic between the left and the right. The left talks about inequality. The right talks about opportunity. When you ask the question, what should be the greater priority of Congress and the president, addressing inequality or greater opportunity, they choose opportunity over inequality by almost two to one. So I understand, and for a third to 40 percent of America, what your two guests are communicating is exactly how they feel, rich versus poor, but for the majority of Americans, it's not the inequality, it's the loss of opportunity that bothers them.
LUNTZAnd I think the Democrats are making a very big mistake here. They are pleasing and appealing to their base when they really should be focused -- if I were a Democratic strategist, I would tell them to focus on the middle. That's not what their language is doing right now.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones, first to May in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. You're on the air.
MAYHi, thank you for taking my call.
MAYMy point is that there's a lot of talk about anger on the Republican side, on how that's why they're coming out in droves for Trump and Cruz and their very strong, bigoted speech. I think there's a lot of anger on the Democratic side about what the Republican Party has done from Planned Parenthood, you talk about the shootings in San Bernardino, you forget about the murders that happened at Planned Parenthood. We're tired of the NRA being in control of this country. We're tired of the Koch brothers. We're tired of them coming into North Carolina and taking over our -- basically our whole educational system.
MAYFrom having the Bill of Rights, quote-unquote, a Koch entity come in and write curriculum that is sort of being mandated for every high school graduate to graduate in North Carolina. These are really, really frightening and very serious issues for us. And there's a lot of anger towards the Republican Party and that kind of bigotry, and that needs to be addressed.
REHMAll right, May, you've addressed it very well. Go ahead, Stanley.
GREENBERGMay is very right on the polarization of the country, the culture war that has actually been waged over the last decade. But it's part of what has produced those conservative-Republican gains in off years because they are -- every election is nationalized around the culture war. That leads to the control of the Koch brothers, it leads to the attacks on Planned Parenthood and the promotion of pro-life agenda. You know, that -- you know, and Democrats are reacting. But the intensity is on the conservative side.
GREENBERGThey don't have the numbers. Frank is wrong on that. The percentage of conservatives have gone down from 47 percent to 37 percent in five years. So the -- they don't have the numbers, but they do have the intensity.
REHMWhat about that, Frank?
LUNTZStan, now tell the listeners what percentage of Americans are liberal today.
GREENBERGActually, if you look at the Wall Street Journal poll, almost the same number as conservatives.
LUNTZIf you look at every other poll, conservatives hold a 15-point advantage, which, by the way...
GREENBERGI only believe Wall Street Journal.
LUNTZBecause it -- and that's something that listeners have every right to challenge. When pollsters use numbers selectively, just to make their point on one issue, they have every right to doubt our profession, they have every right to doubt whether we -- and because we have a special responsibility as pollsters to speak directly. And I just want to make one comment to that call, caller. The Republicans are as mad at Barack Obama over Common Core as Democrats are over the same education issues. Both of them are wrong. The attacks by Republicans on Common Core is inaccurate. The attacks by Democrats that the Koch brothers are rewriting education is inaccurate. And we have a responsibility, when someone makes a claim, we have a responsibility to challenge it if it is not accurate.
REHMOn the other hand, if the voices are loud enough and strong enough, Frank, and repetitive enough, who's not to believe? That's the problem. How do you discern the truth?
LUNTZIt's the reason why I insist on doing all of my focus groups live, in person, rather than doing anything online. It's why -- and viewers can't see this, but you can see each other.
LUNTZEven though we're 2,000 miles away.
LUNTZSo you can see my face. You can see my hand gestures. We have to be able to look peoples straight in the eye and challenge them and call them. You can tell if someone's telling you the truth or not. And by the way, for most Americans, you know how they know that a politician is lying? Their lips are moving.
REHMAlec, do you want to comment on this whole notion that Democrats have their set of issues about which they're totally infuriated, Republicans have a different set of issues, but they are equally infuriated, and we are really not getting the truth about numbers?
MACGILLISI would actually -- I'd like to go back to something Frank said just a moment ago about opportunity and that the Democrats need to be talking more about opportunity. And just to say that I actually think he has a point on this, that the -- one of the solutions to the problem I outlined at the top of the hour about this resentment that a lot of working-class, white Americans feel toward dependencies on social programs in their communities, one of the solutions I've heard offered, since I wrote that piece for the New York Times, is that the Democrats need to do a better job of talking about these programs, these safety net programs, that they've created as being about opportunity and about letting -- giving people, you know, a leg up so that they can eventually make it on their own.
MACGILLISAnd that's -- too often these programs have come to be seen, in these really struggling communities, as a sort of permanent condition, as something that where people are sort of just, you know, giving up and living off the dole, as it were. And one of -- the Democrats really do need to go into these communities, reach out to these voters again and make the case for why these programs are important and why they actually are a way for people to get a leg up in life and not just to be, you know, sort of on the take for the rest of their...
REHMIs he right, Stan?
GREENBERGRight, the issue isn't language of whether it's opportunity or inequality. The issue is whether you have policies that really do impact a real problem. Sometimes let's not have a conversation that's what language is going to win over voters. There's a real problem of rising inequality, marginalization.
GREENBERGIt's taking place in the metropolitan areas, and it's taking place nationally in the country. We need a politics that addresses it. What language is the strongest? Yes, I've been doing research for the -- for, you know, the Roosevelt Institute and others on rewriting the rules because people think the system is rigged, the people think the government needs to be changed so it works for the middle class.
GREENBERGRight now it works only for the top one percent because they spend the money to control it. There's a message, the voters are out there because they want to see the stagnant wages addressed and these issues addressed, but there's a real problem, and sometimes we should talk about the problem, not just what language is strongest for voters.
LUNTZYeah, but part of the problem, Stan, is government itself.
GREENBERGBy money, by the Koch brother money that you're no doubt getting.
LUNTZThe reason -- oh Stan, you're paid by -- we won't go -- I'm not going to do that. This is NPR. We're going to have a positive conversation here. The challenge is about the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of governments. These programs would have so much more support if they could do more with less, if they could demonstrate a consistent success, and every time they get it wrong, the program stops.
LUNTZYou're right, there are -- and I'm mentoring right now, I'm getting involved in this on a personal way, with young people in Washington, D.C. The key in all of this is that if the program doesn't work, accept that it has failed and dump it and find a better approach.
REHMI know you want to comment, Alec.
MACGILLISYes, I want to comment on something that Stan said, which is that -- he's absolutely right that what you most need in these parts of the country that are struggling and that have this real growing resentment about these programs is for these parts of the country to do better. The best -- the thing that would most reduce resentment, most reduce this kind of nastiness that we feel toward each other is if these parts of the country were -- got back on their feet.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's go to John in Detroit, Michigan. You're on the air.
JOHNThank you, Diane, for having me on.
JOHNI'm going to tell you what none of your panel will tell you, but I am a Democrat, I voted straight blue ticket for 40-plus years. Bernie Sanders is actually going to be our next president, and I'll tell you why, because he has tapped into the fact that both parties are basically corrupted by big money, and both of them use very divisive language to divide the working class. This is not a Republican-versus-Democrat issue. This is a haves and have-nots. They're choosing class war, and the people, the working class, knows that they're on the losing end of this rigged system.
REHMAll right, sir, thanks for your call. You know, he taps into a question that one of our emailers has for you, Frank. He says, in recent focus groups of yours, many voters said they thought our country needed change, which clearly John in Detroit, Michigan, feels. But that is so nebulous. Did you follow up with them to find out exactly what kind of change they want?
LUNTZYes, if they're Republican, they want to change the White House. And if they're Democrat, they want to change the system. And the challenge that we have, even just the three of us here with you, is that we can't agree on just about anything. And I think that part of that is how we get our news. Part of is the fact that, thanks to the Web, you can find exactly what you're looking for. We now look for information that affirms us rather than informs us. So we don't even agree on the same facts.
LUNTZAnd I don't know how -- maybe your panelists know how to address it. I don't because we should not disagree on everything. There should be some common ground.
REHMWhat do you think, Alec?
MACGILLISOh, I agree. It's not just that -- how we get our news. It's also how we live. The -- the regional clustering of people in this country is an extraordinary phenomenon, and these sort of -- these bubbles we've created, where you have, you know, places like Washington, D.C., where you have, you know, a lot of very influential, well-to-do folks who simply cannot conceive of what's going out around the country, live with a lot of people who agree with them, live in houses that are now worth a million dollars and just can't conceive of how tough things are out there and why those people out there would be thinking these sort of angry, discontented thoughts.
REHMHow are we going to help ourselves understand the other, Stan?
GREENBERGLook, I wish I could tell you that I think right now that the answer to this is, you know, holding hands and singing "Kumbaya." I think that we need to have a defining election. I mean, this election is about something. There's a reason why there's such energy in the Republican primary. It has to be played out. The overwhelming portion of votes are going to a Cruz or going to a Trump. We're making a big statement. They have to have their opportunity to make that statement so that we can move on to address the huge problems are country face that come out of our diversity, come out of our inequality, you know, come out of, you know, the corrupt political system that needs to be reformed.
REHMFrank, you don't disagree with that?
LUNTZNo, it's the same way on the left. Bernie Sanders is proud to a democratic socialist. He talks -- I've never -- and by the way, socialism is now preferred by 30 percent of Americans to capitalism. So clearly he's tapping into something on the Democratic side. But we -- I agree with Stan. We have to have this conversation. Where I disagree is that we need Republicans and Democrats to have the conversation together, and that's what's not happening.
REHMAnd I would be delighted to host that conversation. Thank you, Frank Luntz, he's author of "Win: The Key Principles To Take Your Business From Ordinary to Extraordinary." Stanley Greenberg, pollster and political analyst, Alec MacGillis, reporter for ProPublica. Thank you all so much.
MACGILLISThank you, glad to be here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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