Next week will mark one year since the March 17, 2015 election. Overall there have been ten public polls released since the election. These are all recent polls since there was no public polling on Knesset seats from late March through late November. Following every election there are questions on the accuracy of polls. When media outlets start ordering polls again there are questions on the necessity of polling in the middle of a term when there is no election in sight and before the end-of-term mergers and splits. My argument here is that polls are more accurate than they are given credit for, and their influence on Israeli politics is profound.
Polling is a science, but it is not an exact science. If the parameters of the model are off so is the estimated margin of error. The Israeli system for allocating seats is a complicated one, and most polling companies cannot predict all mathematical scenarios with their models. Some models are better than others, but each one has its flaws. The saying goes that if you ask two Jews a question you will get three opinions. Polling Jews can be difficult, and finding a representative sample of minority groups can prove even more difficult. However, polling is still the best tool we have for measuring public opinion.
Polling is not just a scientific tool. It can also be used as a political tool because many undecided voters make up their mind by looking at the polls that can influence their final vote. It was for that reason that Israel passed a law prohibiting the publishing of election polls in the last five days before an election. It is difficult to make a final prediction when you need to do so five days in advance.
In 2015 polling companies were blamed not only for getting it wrong with their last polls five days before the election, but also for getting it wrong with the exit polls. The exit poll average was correct on eight of the ten parties with a +1/-1 margin of error. The exit polls were wrong on the two largest lists, Likud and the Zionist Union. That was enough for no media outlet to order a public poll of Knesset seats for the 8 months following the election.
My weekly Poll of Polls model and Election Forecast was carried by The Huffington Post, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Jewish Press, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, and others. I updated my final prediction model for 2015 with my latest momentum model that tracked the week-by-week changes of the 15-week-campaign in addition to the methodology of my 2013 model that took into account voter exchange agreements, disqualified votes, votes from parties not expected to pass the 3.25% threshold, fractions of seats, and various 120th seat (last seat) scenarios. My model was released 5 days before the election, and I predicted correctly +1/-1 on eight of the ten party lists with the exception of the Bayit Yehudi to Likud swing that occurred during the five day public polling blackout.
Phase 1 is something that polling can measure (read a quick explanation of the three phases of choosing a Prime Minister here My Weekend Perspective: The Key to Defeating Netanyahu is Phase 2). Phases 2 and 3 require a different type of analysis. Many analysts’ pre-election coalition scenarios were flat out wrong. My Phase 2 prediction of Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Shas, UTJ & Kulanu recommending Netanyahu for Prime Minister was correct. My prediction that there would be some sort of change between Phase 2 and Phase 3 was also correct. Yisrael Beitenu opted to vote against the government in Phase 3 despite their Phase 2 nomination of Netanyahu.
There have been ten polls released for public consumption since the election and all of them have been conducted over the last four months. The idea behind polling Knesset seats during a Knesset term is not about predicting election results. The purpose is to measure the popularity of each party based on the policy choices they are making and their public responses to current events.
The chart below averages these ten polls. I’d like to offer my analysis and explanation of why this polling matters. Likud remains in first place with a drop from 30 seats to 26.9. Despite the 3-seat drop Likud is in first place and has been in first place in each of the ten polls. Yesh Atid jumps from 11 seats to 18. This is the largest jump and the most important as Lapid’s party goes from the fourth largest party to the second largest. The Zionist Union drops from 24 to 17.1 and more importantly from the second largest party in Knesset to third place in the average of polling. The Joint List goes from 13 seats to 12.8 and drop from the third to fourth largest party. Bayit Yehudi jumps from 8 to 11.5 and improves a spot to enter the top 5. Yisrael Beitenu improves two spots as they go up from 6 to 8.3 seats. Shas stays in the same spot as they go from 7 seats to 6.8 in polling. UTJ goes up a spot from 6 to 6.6 seats. Kulanu drops four spots from 5th to 9thplace, and not one poll has Kahlon in double-digits as they dip from 10 to a 6.5 average. Meretz remains in last place above the threshold as they grow from 5 to a 5.5 average.
In terms of the blocs we are pretty much where we were before the election with 66.6 for the right-religious bloc and 53.4 for the center-left-Arab bloc. Not much has changed since the election results of 67-53.
This week the Knesset had their monthly discussion with the Prime Minister as mandated by the signatures of 40 opposition MKs. Following the Prime Minister’s speech, Opposition Leader Herzog got up to speak and for the first time decided to use the occasion to target Lapid over Netanyahu in his attacks. When the Opposition Leader dedicates his 40 signatures speech for an attack on the head of another opposition party, as opposed to the prime minister, as is customary, there is no external threat to the government. There was no reason to attack Lapid unless Herzog has been looking at the polls.
Herzog’s speech attacking Lapid proves the relevance and influence of polls on politics, why polls do matter in the middle of a term, and how polls can be used as a political tool instead of a scientific one.
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