London, We Have A Problem: Why British Pollsters Were So Dreadfully, Terribly Wrong

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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.

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“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.

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“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 »


Bibi Prevails: President Obama Loses His Bid to Defeat a U.S. Ally

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It isn’t Mr. Obama’s habit to admit error, or to be gracious to his opponents, but it would serve the interests of both nations if he were.

The Israeli election that looked like a cliffhanger when the polls closed on Tuesday had turned into a decisive victory for Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party by Wednesday morning. With at least 29 seats in the parliament compared to 24 for the main center-left party, Israel’s Prime Minister should be able to put together a ruling coalition of center-right parties that is more manageable than his last majority.

“President Obama might also reflect on his own contribution to Mr. Netanyahu’s victory. Israelis surrounded by hostile nations sworn to their destruction are most likely to take risks for peace when they feel secure in America’s support.”

The victory is a remarkable personal triumph for Mr. Netanyahu, who is now Israel’s second longest-serving Prime Minister after David Ben-Gurion. He gambled that he could assemble a more stable center-right coalition, as well as by giving a high-stakes speech to the U.S. Congress on Iran two weeks before the election, and in the final days stressing above all the security themes that must be Israel’s abiding concern.

“While the results may dismay Mr. Netanyahu’s detractors abroad, especially in the White House, they surely reflect Israel’s security consensus.”

Mr. Netanyahu and Likud were trailing in the polls in the final week as the opposition stressed the rising cost of food and housing and an economy that had slowed to about 3% growth from near 6% in 2010. But in the closing days Mr. Netanyahu played up that foreigners (read: President Obama) wanted him defeated, and he rejected statehood for Palestinians, reversing a position he had taken in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »


Mandela vs. the Iron Lady

A framed portrait of former president Nelson Mandela and flowers are placed outside Mandela's Johannesburg home Friday, December 6, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Denis Farrell)

A framed portrait of former president Nelson Mandela and flowers are placed outside Mandela’s Johannesburg home Friday, December 6, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Denis Farrell)

Netanyahu’s decision to skip Madiba’s memorial is principled but controversial, especially in light of that fact that he attended Margaret Thatcher’s funeral

Joshua Davidovich writes: Israeli papers feature a mishmash of domestic news on their front pages Tuesday morning, with Knesset laws, a coming winter storm, and a shortage of doctors and paramedics trumping reports of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s ninth visit to the region in as many months, and low-level talks over the Iranian nuclear deal in Geneva.

The decisions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres not to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg also gets some play on A1, with Netanyahu coming in for a not-small amount of criticism, though Peres, with a doctor’s note, gets a pass.

While former Israeli ambassador Alon Liel said Monday that Netanyahu’s decision to skip was the right one, seeing as how his policies are seen as anathema to Mandela’s and his presence might sully the service, Sima Kadmon writes inYedioth Ahronoth that she could die from embarrassment over Netanyahu’s reason for skipping, namely the high cost of such a trip.

“Netanyahu’s reason for not going is an affront to intelligence,” she writes. “And now that every news channel around the globe is citing his reason for not going, it’s an affront to the whole country.”

In Maariv, Michal Aharoni says Netanyahu seemed fine making the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, so why not Mandela’s, (though her scathing prose is somewhat undermined by insisting Netanyahu is skipping a funeral, and not a memorial service — plus she misspells Newseum).

“Oh, you’re not flying to save money? It costs a lot to fly to the memorial? There are security procedures and short notice? Strange. Margaret Thatcher, a former prime minister of Britain, died less than a year ago, and the prime minister and his wife managed fine flying there. And not only did they fly together, the plane was outfitted with a special half-million shekel bed and security arrangements were good and there was enough warning,” she writes. “What values, as a country, do we place higher, values of justice and ethics, or the economic values of Margaret Thatcher, who after her death Brits went out drinking and waved signs condemning her?”

Haim Schein in Israel Hayom, however, writes that the press is being too harsh on the prime minister, who he says would be attacked whether he went or not, seeing as he recently came under fire for spending too much state money on trips abroad, scented candles and other non-essentials.

Read the rest of this entry »


France Will Not Back Down on Iran

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French President Francois Hollande, visiting Israel for three days, reiterated on Sunday that France will not back down in its opposition to Iran’s nuclear program as it currently stands. He said, “France will not tolerate nuclear proliferation. As long as we are not certain that Iran has decided to give up on nuclear weapons, we will continue with all our demands and with sanctions.”  France currently does $3 billion a year on trade with Israel.

Hollande will visit the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and also the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. He is planning a speech in the Knesset,

Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein welcomed Hollande, saying, “it is a great honor for the Knesset to host the President of France, who is one of Israel’s closest friends. The French President is a close friend and I am happy that he chose to address the nation of Israel from the Knesset plenum. I believe that the visit will be very meaningful for both countries.”

France’s Hollande in Israel