Getting a Start in Political Polling Thanks to Frank Luntz

In what is now a Penn 1993 reunion tradition, Frank Luntz, C’84, and Jef Pollock, C’93, will engage in a panel discussion on the state of politics – and polling in America on Saturday morning of Alumni Weekend.

How did this magical pairing happen? Let’s let Jef tell the story…

I’ve told this story so many times, I can hardly remember life at Penn without Frank Luntz, then an adjunct Professor in the American Civilization department.  And I’ll try the short version. Frank had just gotten his doctorate as a Thouron scholar at Oxford University where he had written his dissertation turned book, “Candidates, Consultants, and Campaigns” which became the essential reading for his first class at Penn. His class was a 3-hour class taught on Monday nights from 6:00 – 9:00 PM. Every week, he would bring in a different guest lecturer, and to those of us who loved politics as I did, it was like a greatest hits listing of all the best political consultants of the time – Bob Shrum, Stan Greenberg, Alex Castellanos, Paul Begala, and on and on. They lectured for the first half, and then the second half was all him. We would argue, debate, and talk about politics.  As a Conservative Republican, Frank was a fish out of water in the classroom (just as he had been when he was at Penn as an undergrad years before), surrounded by tons of idealistic Democrats and a few die-hard Republicans riveted by the passion that he brought to the classroom.

Frank Luntz and Jef Pollock #93tothe25th

Frank Luntz (standing) and Jef Pollock (sitting in front) during Penn 1993’s 20th reunion in 2013 discussing politics and polling

After class, many of us would head to Smokey Joe’s where Frank would gladly buy dinner for those who were willing to go out (many of us just wanted the free food/drinks). Frank would sit at the bar for hours and hours and debate any student who wanted to tangle with him. He was the first American head of the Oxford Debating society, and he viewed intellectual debate as essential for learning. He could be pro-choice or anti-choice, pro-Israel or anti, it didn’t matter It was just about debate. It also helped that he wouldn’t drink at the bar while the rest of us were slightly more interested in the alcoholic content of the debate.

After the bar would close at 2:00 AM, a group of us would head out to IHOP, then at 19th and Walnut streets, where the debate would continue. Frank would order a T-bone steak (his healthy eating habits are legendary and remain in place today), we would eat pancakes. And we’d be out till the wee hours of the night.

Finally, when the night was over, we would head back to campus where Frank would crash on a couch (his cheap nature is also legendary!) and when we would wake up the next day at noon for class, he was gone. And this went on for three years.

In 1992, he took a group of us to New Hampshire to experience the New Hampshire primaries up close. It was one of the best experiences of my life. If you lived and breathed politics, that was the trip to be on – we met the candidates, walked around with notebooks pretending we were reporters, one of us even asked a question of Paul Tsongas in a candidate forum. Here’s a photo from that trip of me having lunch at a mall in New Hampshire with Hillary Clinton, where we just happened to walk into her, and so Frank asked her to have lunch with us!

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Penn AmCiv class

Jef Pollock eating lunch with Hillary Rodham Clinton

This was academics the way Frank wanted it – experience it and touch it, not just to read it.  He got me and others summer internships in Washington with some of the people we idolized. And then for me, he took it away (without asking me) telling Bob Shrum that I wouldn’t be coming and instead sending Josh Frank in my place. He was hiring me for himself and thus began my life with Frank. I worked for him (we agreed, no GOP work, only corporate and international) from 1992-1994.

Frank Luntz and Jef Pollock political polling

Jef Pollock and Frank Luntz leading a political polling discussion during our 20th Reunion in 2013

In November of 1994, Frank became a rock star, having written the GOP Contract With America. The Republicans took over Congress for the first time in 40 years and Frank was viewed as the author of that win. I knew I couldn’t stay with him given my own partisan leanings, and off I went to NYC to follow my girlfriend (now wife Deborah Brown!) and to get my Master’s degree at Columbia. In addition, I wanted to start my own firm specializing in polling to help Democrats.

During my time with Luntz as an employee, one of my main clients was Governor Pedro Rossello of Puerto Rico. Frank had worked in Puerto Rico for years for the PNP, the pro-Statehood party, that had for years been identified with the Republican party – but when Rossello won, a friendship with Bill Clinton led him to announce he was a Democrat, and it became the perfect client for Frank and me together. Most impressively, when I moved to NYC, Frank let me keep working for Rossello – paying me a retainer to stay involved, and even keep a percentage of the revenue from the polling we did together. Anyone knows the hardest part of starting a business is not having any revenue – and Frank solved that problem for me. I had a new business, with revenue, and it was the start that I needed.

Today, I run one of the largest Democratic Public Affairs firms in the country, doing more polling for Democratic federal candidates in the last election than any other firm. And I wouldn’t be here without that first class, that mentorship, and that first job with Frank Luntz. I am forever grateful to Frank and to the University of Pennsylvania for all the opportunities they gave to me that have led to my success.

Frank Luntz political panel #93tothe25th

Frank Luntz engages with the audience during the politics and polling panel, May 2013

So, come and join us, Saturday May 12th, at 9:30 AM in Houston Hall.Come see us argue and talk about the destructive politics that have captured our nation. We put on a heck of a show, with laughs, data, videos, and a lot of jokes in between. We hope to see you there.

Politics and Polling – Discussion with Jef Pollock, C’93, and Frank Luntz, C’84

9:30 AM – 10:30 AM  |  Houston Hall, 3417 Spruce Street
The Class of 1993’s regular reunion discussion with pollster (and former Penn professor/lecturer) Frank Luntz, C’84 and democratic pollster Jef Pollock, C’93, CEO of Global Strategies Group. Frank and Jef will have a frank discussion about measuring the electorate prior to the elections, national and local trends, and what to look for in the mid-term elections later this year.

Penn Class of 1993 25th Reunion #93tothe25th

Penn Class of 1993 25th Reunion Countdown

The weekend of March 23 – 24, marked 7 weeks until the 25th Reunion of the Penn Class of 1993 (May 11 – 14, 2018)! Meet us at the Button!

Register NOW to attend our 25th Reunion!

Join us we count down the weeks to our reunion #93tothe25th:

  • Follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.
  • Classmates are invited to join our Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
  • Donate to The Penn Fund in honor of our reunion! We want to break the 25th reunion participation giving record and every gift matters!
  • Do you have old photos or mementos from our time at Penn? Photos of Spring Fling? Football at Franklin Field? Classes at DRL? We are taking a trip down memory lane and would love for you to share your memories with our class in a future post. Please email us!
  • Book your hotel room or AirBnB now! See our class website for details.











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Filed under 25th Reunion, Alumni Weekend, Class of 1993, Kiera R.

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