Why polls got it so wrong

By Toby Greene, January 24, 2013

On Tuesday night, Israeli voters rewarded politics addicts with the joy of a real shock. Not a single pre-election poll, among the scores conducted, predicted the scale of Yesh Atid’s success. What the published surveys were hiding was the very high number of undecideds among likely voters, with the pollsters unable to predict where those votes would end up.

The surveys had correctly shown that Benjamin Netanyahu’s joint Likud-Beiteinu list was haemorrhaging support but they underestimated by how much, and also how many votes were going to the centre-left, and not the right.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett was snapping up votes on the pro-settler right. But the belief of many pundits that he was also grabbing the imagination of the secular middle-class now looks exaggerated.

Perhaps Mr Netanyahu was also deceived by the polling: focusing mainly on security, he offered little by way of a positive agenda for the centre-ground.

On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu made a bold move to address the socio-economic agenda, appointing popular outgoing minister Moshe Kahlon as chairman of the Israel Lands Administration with the task of opening up the housing market. Too little, too late.

In the end it was Yair Lapid who won the support of many floating voters. In several ways it was a result rooted in the social protest movement in 2011. Whereas Labour tried to claim the spirit of the social protests, placing two of the young protest leaders high on its list, Mr Lapid did better at getting to the guts of what had brought the middle class onto the streets.

Ultimately it was not so much about a less aggressive capitalism, as about the middle class wanting its fair share of the pie, and no longer to carry the economic weight of the ultra-Orthodox. Lapid’s headline issue, of national service for all, best encapsulated this mood.

Dr Toby Greene is the Director of Research for Bicom and Deputy Editor of Fathom

Last updated: 11:26am, January 24 2013