Michael Barone writes: “The world may have a polling problem.” That’s the headline on a blogpost by Nate Silver, the wunderkind founder of the fivethirthyeight.com website. It was posted on 9:54 Eastern Time the night of May 7, as the counting in the British election was continuing in the small hours of May 8 UK Time.
“Polling provides useful information, but information whose reliability is often ephemeral and increasingly, it seems, limited.”
That was an hour after the result in the constituency of Nuneaton made it clear that all the pre-election polls were wrong. Nuneaton, in the Midlands just east of Birmingham, was number 28 on a list of 42 marginal two-party contests. Projections based on pre-election polls were that Labour would win 35 of these 42 seats. Instead Conservatives won 34 of them.
Nationally, the pre-election polls predicted that Conservatives would win about 280 seats, barely ahead of Labour and far short of a 326-seat majority. The exit poll pegged them at 316. They ended up winning 331.
“Readers may have noticed that all these errors seem to come from one ideological direction. In nations where the dominant media lean left–the New York Times and the old-line TV networks here, the BBC in Britain, Ha’aretz in Israel–opinion on the right has been understated in the polls.”
Something similar happened in 1992, when pre-election polls showed the two parties tied but Conservatives won by a 7.5-point margin. The most common explanation, advanced by Conservative analyst Rob Hayward: “shy Tories” were unwilling to tell pollsters they favored the Conservative party.
“Evidently, some people don’t want to identify themselves as troglodytes to telephone interviewers or even on robocalls.”
British pollsters made adjustments then but, as Hayward notes, they didn’t work this year. Internal party polls apparently did better. American pollster Stanley Greenberg, working for Labour and using a longer questionnaire, found the party’s numbers sagging. Australian consultant Lynton Crosby, running Conservatives’ campaign, assured party leaders they would win 300 seats. Read the rest of this entry »
61-seat majority leaves Netanyahu little margin for error
TEL AVIV— Nicholas Casey and Joshua Mitnick report: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finalized a deal late Wednesday to establish a new governing coalition, concluding weeks of negotiations after his March 17 election landslide victory.
“The present government is going to be even more dysfunctional than the last government given how narrow it is. Something has got to give.”
— Sam LehmanWilzig, a political-science professor at Bar Ilan University
At a joint news conference with Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party and the last hold out in the coalition haggling, Mr. Netanyahu said he planned to immediately inform Israel’s president as required by law that he had successfully formed a majority coalition.
“No one was surprised that the negotiations were drawn out with all the parties, but no one was surprised that it ended on time.”
— Benjamin Netanyahu
Mr. Netanyahu’s struggle to form a coalition was a turn of fortune for the Israeli leader after his Likud party won a decisive mandate for a fourth term in the March vote. He opted to dissolve parliament and call early elections with the hope of forming a more cohesive and stable coalition. Now, he faces the prospect of more instability instead.
Mr. Netanyahu’s new majority numbers just 61 seats held by right-wing and religious factions, leaving Mr. Netanyahu with little margin for error in the 120-seat parliament, called the Knesset.
Analysts say that while such a government might be hard to topple from the outside—it will be solidly right-wing—such a narrow majority could leave it vulnerable to pressure from demands from individual lawmakers within his coalition that could endanger his government. Read the rest of this entry »