Polls, Politicians, Peanuts, and Popcorn

Polls, Politicians, Peanuts, and Popcorn

By Shmuel Sackett

As soon as elections are announced – anywhere around the world – the media immediately starts running polls. Where does this one stand? What about her? What if this guy drops out – how does it affect the ones that remain? Dozens of questions are thrown at the population, even before things have been finalized, and the media reports on these polls as though they were given at Sinai. I must admit that, although I have been actively involved in politics for over 20 years, I am still amazed at how people take these polls so seriously.

Yes, polls are an important tool, but not when conducted in two to three days, as 90 percent are. A reliable poll should take no less than 30 days. It should include at least six focus groups for an in-depth analysis. These six groups should be equally divided as three men’s groups and three women’s groups. The questionnaire should contain at least 40 (yes, 40) well-planned questions and asked to 1,000 people from a diverse background. The method of reaching the people should be via a combination of landline telephones, cell phones, Internet, email, and WhatsApp. This will accurately reflect the society being tested and produce serious results. After the data has been gathered, it must be analyzed by statistical experts who can then arrive at intelligent conclusions. When a poll following these rules has been taken, open your eyes and read it because the results will be very close to the final reality.

Unfortunately, the polls printed in the media are nothing like I listed above. They do not have focus groups, contain just six to ten questions, use landline and cell phones only, and the random sample of the population is between 400 and 500. This is why they are tremendously inaccurate. I realize that all polls have a slight margin of error but, recently, many polls have been horribly inaccurate. Consider these few examples:

This past August, Andrew Gillum ran in the Democratic primary for Governor of Florida. Polls had him in fourth place at 12%. The result? Andrew Gillum won the primary with 34% of the vote.

This past November, many states across America voted for Senator. Believe it or not, 40% of the polls predicted the WRONG winner!

Let’s go to Brazil where, this past October, there was an election for President. The front runner was a guy who had already been president twice. He left office in 2010 and was now running for a third term. His name is Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. All polls showed him winning. Trailing close behind him was a woman named Marina Silva. Polls had her just two to three points away. In third place – at just 15% – was Jair Bolsonaro. Here is a direct quote from a Brazilian website: “Bolsonaro does not poll well, even for the number three man in the line-up…” Well, guess who won and is now President of Brazil? Jair Bolsonaro, the guy who “does not poll well”!

Back to the United States: I don’t think I have to remind you of what happened in November 2016. Every poll had Hillary Clinton as the winner. All the “experts” predicted it and the polls backed them up. According to the polls, it wasn’t even going to be close. Sorry, Mrs. Clinton, but just like the other examples above, the polls were horribly wrong.

And finally – let’s travel back in time to May 31, 1996, in Israel. It was the first – and only time – that Israel had a direct election for Prime Minister: Shimon Peres vs. Benjamin Netanyahu. All polls – yes, every single one – had Shimon Peres as the winner. Mina Tzemach, considered to be Israel’s leading political pollster (who is still being used today by all the media outlets, although I have no idea why) printed her final poll on Election Day: a seven-point victory for Peres. That’s a big lead on the final day: seven points! Yet, as we know, Peres lost and Bibi became Prime Minister of Israel.

I could easily give other examples from recent elections all over the world, but this is an article, not a thesis. The point is clear: Polls that are taken quickly to just get some data into the morning newspaper are highly unreliable and not worth the paper they are printed on. The only polls that are to be taken seriously are those that are conducted in a scientific manner, following the professional methods I listed above. Based on that, please keep reading because you are about to be pleasantly surprised.

Timor Group is an international political consulting firm. They have managed dozens of winning presidential, parliamentary, and municipal campaigns on four continents and have an amazing, proven record of success. In December 2018, an American “political think tank” decided to conduct an in-depth, deep analysis of the new Israeli political party, Zehut. They considered all of the Israeli polling companies but quickly realized that Timor Group was in a different league. They hired Timor to conduct this scientific, in-depth analysis of Zehut and, two weeks ago, Timor presented a 60-page report of their findings. This wasn’t just a simple poll to see how many seats Zehut will get. It was about potential. It was about issues and how the Israeli public understands, identifies, supports, or opposes the Zehut ideology on such core issues as legalization of marijuana, school vouchers, separation of religion and state, and much more. It studied the entire Israeli population and broke down the data by gender, age, and political affiliation.

Let me get right to the point. After all their data was gathered and analyzed, the official conclusion of the Timor Group was that 15 percent of the Israeli public are ready to vote for Zehut in these coming elections, but on one condition: They must be convinced that Zehut will pass the “minimum threshold.” (Note: In order to enter the Knesset, a party must win a minimum of 4 seats – which is approximately 140,000 votes.) I must explain that 15 percent translates to about 630,000 votes (18 Knesset seats), so really, there’s nothing for Israelis to worry about. The problem is that, according to Timor Group, Zehut – right now – is polling at just two seats because the public is deeply worried about the “minimum threshold.” In different words, 630,000 Zehut voters are worried that Zehut won’t get 140,000 votes! Yes, you read that right: 630,000 people want to vote for Zehut but need to know that 140,000 will actually do it!

The political consultants at Timor stated that, in all their years of experience, they never saw anything like this. Normally, a party that is currently polling at two may have a potential of five. They have worked for other Israeli parties who were polling at eight but had the potential to hit 11. That is the norm. However, in the case of Zehut, polling at two but a potential for 18?? That has simply never been done in political history!

Is a political revolution headed towards Israel? It certainly is possible! Elections are less than two months away, so stay tuned.

Shmuel Sackett is a 100% product of Queens. He was born in Middle Village and moved to KGH shortly before his bar-mitzvah. He graduated from YCQ (1975) and YHSQ (1979). He was Havurat Yisrael’s first Youth Director (4 years) and started the first 2 NCSY chapters in Queens. Shmuel made aliyah in 1990 and co-founded Manhigut Yehudit, together with Moshe Feiglin. His website is www.JewishIsrael.org Sackett is married with 6 children and 4 grandchildren. He lives in Herziliya Pituach.