In less than a month, the Knesset elections will be held. As in any election campaign, the polls that are published every week have a central role. Not only do the polls influence the voter’s decision, but they actually create a reality.
For example, the prevailing assumption is that the voter would prefer to vote for a party with high chances of entering the Knesset, and would prefer to avoid supporting the party whose chances of passing the threshold are small. In addition, when there is a close race between the two major parties, the voter would prefer to abstain from voting for small parties in the same bloc and to strengthen the large parties instead.
Thus, with the help of the polls, the voter knows the balance of power between the parties, and according to this information, he decides for whom to vote.
Yet, although many argue that the polls are inaccurate, the truth is that they were able to predict almost accurately the election results. Nevertheless, the polls fail to identify processes that take place just before the elections, as a quarter of the voters decide on how to vote in the last minute. An analysis of the last four elections illustrates this claim very well:
In the 2006 elections, when the law still permitted the publication of polls the day before the elections, the polls failed to identify the success of the Pensioners Party and the disappointing result of Kadima headed by Ehud Olmert. Although the Pensioners Party stunned and won seven seats in the elections, the polls published the day before the elections predicted the party at most two seats. Thus, when the polls showed that the Pensioners Party was able to pass the 2% threshold, and that voting for the party was not a wasted vote, a psychological barrier broke out among the potential party voters, who were no longer afraid to vote for the party.
On the other, while the polls predicted Kadima 35 seats, the party eventually won only 29. Since Kadima had no serious competition for the premiership, many voters seemed to realize that Kadima had already won the elections, and at the last minute preferred to vote for another party. Even in the 2009 elections, the polls failed to predict the same trend. Although the Kadima Party, headed by Tzipi Livni, won 28 seats in the elections, the polls published four days before the elections (due to an amendment to the law according to which polls could be published only four days before the elections) predicted only 23 seats. In fact, as center-left bloc voters wished that Kadima chairman Livni would form the government, they chose in the last minute to strengthen Kadima at the expense of the Labor and Meretz.
In the 2013 elections, it was Yair Lapid’s new party, Yesh Atid, which stunned not only the pollsters but also the political system in Israel. While the surveys conducted four to five days before the elections predicted Yesh Atid only 11 seats, the party eventually won 19 seats and was the surprise of the elections.
The trend also continued in the 2015 elections. While the most recent surveys conducted four to five days before the elections predicted Netanyahu and the Likud only 21 Knesset seats, the party was stunned and won 30 seats. In fact, due to an aggressive campaign by Netanyahu, and the fear among right-wing voters that the center-left bloc would win the elections, many right-wing voters at the last minute preferred to vote for Likud.
The main victim was the Bayit Yehudi Party headed by Naftali Bennett, whose case the polls also failed to predict. Thus, while the polls conducted four to five days before the elections predicted the Bayit Yehudi 13 seats, the party eventually won only eight seats.
In the 2015 elections, another precedent occurred. For the first time, the Election Day’s models, which in all four recent elections almost accurately predicted the final results, failed to predict the Likud’s great victory over the Zionist Union. Thus, while these models predicted that the two parties won 27 seats each, the elections results showed that the Likud won 30 seats, compared with only 24 for the Zionist Union. What is interesting was that apart from the results of these two parties, the Election Day’s models, as happened in all four recent elections, almost accurately predicted the rest of the results.
These figures lead us to the clear conclusion that more surprises are definitely expected in the 2019 elections, surprises that will be revealed only when the final results are known. In fact, the 2019 elections will be even more fascinating, as there are two phenomena that will almost certainly cause voters to change their voting in the last minute, which will make it harder for the polls to identify the final results. On the one hand, there is a two-headed battle between Blue and White Party and the Likud, a battle that could take votes from the smaller parties.
On the other, the polls indicate that there are four parties, the United Arab List-Balad, Yisrael Beytenu, Gesher and Zehut, whose chances of passing the threshold (3.25%) are not so high. There is also a chance, though low, that even Kulanu and Meretz will not be in the next Knesset, a possibility that could completely change the map of the blocs.
In summary, although the polls almost accurately predict the elections results, they fail to identify last-minute trends. Therefore, there is no doubt that surprises are expected in the coming elections. The million dollar question is which party will be the surprise.The writer is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, was a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth, and was a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.
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