March 24, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
A few weeks ago I wrote about the concept of the “shy Tory”. These are the members of the electorate who tend not to tell pollsters they intend to vote Conservative, along with anyone else that asks, but end up voting Conservative when it comes to Election Day. The reason they are shy is because they recognise that part of our political culture in this country is to be embarrassed to say you are voting Conservative, yet people still ISO it. It is a bit like the “shy Unionists” who were concerned about telling pollsters in Scotland they were intending to vote “No” but then went and did so, although in their case the almost violent reaction by Nationalists to anyone saying they might vote ‘No’ is a pretty good bet for a reason top. These people are the bane of our pollsters lives. Shivers must have gone down many a pollster’s spine last week as the election result from Israel came through. Hopefully, they will learn from it that they really do have to build in a an allowance for ‘Shy Tories’.
Bibi Netanyahu’s victory was not reliably predicted by anyone. The last poll published, on the Friday before the election, had his Likud party winning 22 seats. The image above, averaging out polls, had them at 23 seats. This was fewer than the Zionist Union, his main opposition. In between that last poll and Election Day, Netanyahu did go on the offensive. He warned of Arab Israelis being bussed to the polls, said he wouldn’t remove any settlements and said the Palestinian state wouldn’t happen under him. But in the aftermath many voting behaviour experts have also pointed out that what Netanyahu provided was the conservative choice. He was the self-styled “Bibi-sitter” for the nation, as shown in the advert during the campaign where a couple are going out and he turns up at their doorstep as their babysitter, leading to the question being asked about who Israeli’s would trust most to keep their children safe. That Likud ended up winning 30 seats and will almost certainly form the next government is proof that the answer was Netanyahu. But that still doesn’t mean Israelis intending to vote for him were proud to say so.
In this country, it has become increasingly difficult to say the same about the Conservatives, for a variety of reasons. Yet people do keep voting for them, and their campaign does rest on the central conservative principle that the economy in particular in set on a good course and we shouldn’t risk changing it now. The trouble is that it has been shown time and again that they may not tell pollsters of their intentions. This is why bookmakers as well as political commentators are starting to edge more firmly towards a Tory victory – and possibly a Tory majority.
The Israeli election shows just what could happen. Stephen Fisher, associate professor in political sociology at Oxford University, commented: “The discrepancy in the Likud figures with the pre-election polls just five days out from the election is equivalent to 43 seats in the House of Commons. This is more than the difference between the current central forecast of a seriously hung parliament and a Tory majority in one direction and almost a Labour majority in the other.”
Given few people will shy away from saying they are voting Labour, it is likely that the difference will be in favour of the Tories. Just don’t believe everything the polls say.