Israeli public deliberately misinform polling companies, pollsters say

“People think we’re the establishment, even though we’re not, and there’s an international trend against the establishment," veteran 'Post' pollster Rafi Smith said.

JPost Poll: If elections where held today, who would you vote for? (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
JPost Poll: If elections where held today, who would you vote for?
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Many Israelis deliberately give polling companies incorrect information, which harms their data, leading pollsters told The Jerusalem Post.
The pollsters were reacting to the very different results in recent polls. For instance, the first polls taken after Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked formed their New Right (Hayamin Hehadash) Party on December 29 were inconclusive, with some pollsters predicting 14 seats and some only six.
Veteran Post pollster Rafi Smith said that pollsters have wrongly received a negative image as elitist, along with the media and academia.
“People think we’re the establishment, even though we’re not, and there’s an international trend against the establishment,” Smith said.
Panels Research pollster Menachem Lazar agreed, although he said his colleagues may have contributed to that image by presenting their polls on the televised news.
“Pollsters have become media, so they are getting criticized by the public like the media,” Lazar said.
Smith’s father Hanoch Smith first presented polls on Israel Radio in the 1950s and was the first to conduct an exit poll broadcast on national television, when he correctly predicted the 1977 political upheaval that brought Menachem Begin to power.
Back then, polls were conducted in face to face interviews or by mail. Taking polls exclusively by phone only began in Israel after the mid-1980s, since not all Israelis had access to a phone back then.
Panels brought the new system of conducting polls via Internet panels in 2005. But most pollsters still do part of their polling by phone, because some sectors do not have Internet access.
Smith said discrepancies in polling can also be explained by pollsters having different models, ways of getting information procedures for handling undecided voters and methods of calculating to make sure polls are properly representative.
Lazar added that a poll’s margin of error alone can bring one party up by two mandates and another down two seats.
“We all have our limitations and work with them differently, but it tends to eventually balance out,” he said. “People only remember when we get things wrong on Election Day.”
Lazar said that polling in Israel has become more professional over time. But what the public sees are shallow polls with few questions taken for the press and not serious polls for political campaigns, which indicate from where votes come and how to maximize political support, he said.
Social media also has a major impact on public opinion in Israel, both pollsters said. Smith said it does not change polling, but has changed trends, moods, and the image of people.
“A couple decades ago, you waited to get your news from print newspapers or the 6 p.m. TV news, but now, when people get news online and are constantly inundated with information, their views change much quicker,” Lazar said. “That is one of the reasons why party loyalty is gone except among the haredim (ultra-Orthodox), Arabs and the Likud. For the rest of the parties, that is not a significant factor that can predict how people will vote anymore.”


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