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 It has been a tough month for the political experts amongst us. There were two major elections that commanded international interest and media coverage. One was here in Israel and the second one just concluded in the United Kingdom. In both instances the media, in the main, was heavily biased towards the Left. Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni and their left of center Zionist Union party was adored by most of the print and television media here in Israel, as well as in the United States and the Western world.

“Anybody but Netanyahu” was the favored slogan of the day. Millions of foreign dollars were poured into the Israeli election, most of which was designated to the defeat of Netanyahu at all costs. The odd couple of Herzog and Livni were extolled as being the saviors of peace, decency, morality and harmonious relationships with the American president and other world leaders.
The pollsters showed a very close election with momentum favoring the Zionist Union, and Netanyahu starting to lag behind. The pundits solemnly opined that Herzog and Livni would most probably form the next government coalition. It seems that everyone was convinced of this type of election result except for the voters.
The polls were proven to be wrong, skewed and even malicious in their attempt to influence the election. The pundits, who in the main are elitist, leftist and in their hearts disdainful of the average Israeli voter, also were proven to be empty suits. Netanyahu’s unexpected and unpredicted smashing victory was not only against his political opponents but also just as much a vanquishing of the pollsters and pundits. Nevertheless, remorse and apology for error and bias are rare commodities amongst those that always know better, so the beat goes on.
The United Kingdom engaged in a parliamentary election last week. Again the left-leaning media, both print and electronic, with few exceptions, predicted a neck and neck race with a strong possibility that the Labor party would form the new government coalition. Labor was led by Ed Miliband, a Jew by birth but apparently not by faith, behavior or loyalty to the Jewish cause.
We were assured by the pollsters and the media that this was going to be the closest British parliamentary election of the last half-century. The pundits were busy formulating what new policies and economic reforms the Labor government would embark upon in order to undo the policies of the Tory government enacted over the past few years.
Unlike Tony Blair who had campaigned as “New Labor,” Miliband campaigned as “Old Labor” and championed the good old socialist ideas and programs that Labor stood for over most of this past century. Wishing for this type of ideological shift to occur, the pollsters and pundits wildly overestimated the popularity of Miliband and his campaign promises. Pollsters and political prognosticators and commentators usually are able to convince themselves of the fact that what they wish to happen should happen and therefore will happen. As such, when they are proven wrong, as they were done so convincingly in the British election just concluded, they become dismissive of the intelligence of the electorate and assign all sorts of excuses – except for their own previous bias – to explain why they were so wrong about something of which they were so certain.
Polls are many times if not most times quite accurate. Nevertheless, they are unreliable when the pollster has a personal or vested interest in the outcome. Polls depend on how the question is phrased and even on the body language and interaction between the questioner and answerer. And, another issue is that people do not always answer pollsters truthfully. I think this is especially true regarding elections, where many times the voter has not really truly made up his or her mind until actually casting a ballot.
I think that this was particularly true in the Israeli election. In interviews afterward,  many of the voters stated that they voted for Netanyahu because at the last moment they could not face up to voting for a different party, even if that party was ideologically closer to their original mental makeup.
The prophet stated it well: “The heart is twisted and complex; who can really discern it?” Apparently not the pollsters and pundits, who are otherwise so confident in their expertise and accuracy. It is not easy to be a pollster or political expert and they should not be judged too harshly. However, greater effort at evenhandedness, lack of bias and a personal sense of humility would undoubtedly help contribute to their greater success in the future.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein  

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