Swiss Minaret vote

Over the weekend Switzerland voted in a referendum to ban Minarets (the spires on Mosques from which Muslims are called to prayer), the result of the vote was 57.5% in favour. Interestingly though the final poll before the referendum showed the opposite – voting intention in the referendum stood at 37% YES and 53% NO. The poll was conducted between Nov 9th and 14th, so there were two weeks between the fieldwork and the referendum during which opinion could easily have shifted in favour of the proposal.

What strikes me though is that it’s also the perfect example of the sort of question where there would be a high risk of social desirability bias. The proposal was opposed by the Swiss government, most political parties, the churches and the media. People may not have felt able to admit to a interviewer (the polls were conducted by phone) that they were going to vote in favour of a policy targetting Muslims and the “socially desirable” thing would have been to say they were voting against it.

We will never know how much shift in opinion there was in those last two weeks, but my guess is that the polls were probably underestimating support for the measure anyway.


For anyone interested in the German elections, here are the most recent opinion polls in Germany. There is a surprising lack of polls carried out in the last few days – presumably there isn’t any law against them, since Forsa have managed to put one out with fieldwork carried out midweek.

Date CDU/CSU FPD Green SPD The left
Forsa 24/09/09 33 14 10 25 12
YouGov 24/09/09 34 11 10 27 11
Allensbach 21/09/09 35 13.5 11 24 11.5
GMS 17/09/09 36 13 11 25 11
Forschungruppe 17/09/09 36 13 10 25 11
Infratest 17/09/09 35 14 10 26 11
Emnid 16/09/09 33 14 10 25 12
INFO GmbH 15/09/09 34 12 10 27 12

At the last German elections in 2005 the polls performed very poorly – showing CDU leads between 7 and 9 points, when they ended up leading by only 1 point. Let’s see if they’ve done any better this time round.

UPDATE: Prior to the election the German electoral commission made a great fuss about the risk of people leaking exit polls on Twitter, which frankly is asking to become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Amusingly though, with twenty minutes to go Twitter is now flooded with lots of people posting contradictory fake exit polls.


-->

A reader emailed me to ask if we could have a look at the polling in Ireland ahead of the second referendum on the Lisbon treaty. A reader emailed me to ask if we could have a look at the polling in Ireland ahead of the second referendum on the Lisbon treaty. We certainly can – here’s the latest polls:

Yes No Don’t know
Quantum 12/09/09 63 15 22
Red C 12/09/09 62 23 15
TNS Mrbi 04/09/09 46 29 22
TNS Mrbi 28/05/09 54 28 18
TNS Mrbi 13/05/09 52 29 19
Quantum 25/04/09 54 24 22
Red C 28/01/09 58 28 14

On the face of it the Yes camp would seem to have an unassailable lead. However, I wouldn’t necessary put money on it. In the first referendum on Lisbon polls in the months leading up to the referendum consistently showed the YES camp ahead, when as we know, the NO campaign ended up victorious. Only one pollster – TNS MRBI – showed the NO camp ahead, and then only in their final poll having previously recorded leads for YES. This year TNS MRBI’s most recent poll, after a long gap since back in May, shows support for the YES camp dipping back below 50%. I wouldn’t dimiss this as being cut and dried just yet.


With the Iranian election still disputed, some support for President Ahmadinejad has come from what seems to be the only solid poll during the campaign. Iranian election polls are notoriously dodgy – there is a list of those that emerged during the campaign on this wikipedia page, they show wildly contrasting figures, report only partial results, cover only major cities (or often only Tehran itself), or have sample sizes that suggest they are straw polls, not controlled samples. It’s not a particular surprise, given that opinion pollsters in Iran have an unfortunate history of ending up in prison.

One poll that does seem to have a solid methodological basis is this one by Terror Free Tomorrow, a US non-for-profit company. Amongst those expressing a voting intention this showed Ahmadinejad on 67%, Moussavi on 27%, Karroubi on 4% and Rezai on 1%. The actual results were Ahmadinejad 63%, Moussavi 34%, Rezai 2% and Karroubi 1%.

The authors, Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, wrote an article in the Washington Post yesterday saying that, despite what seems to be the Western media’s keeness to assume that the election was fixed and Ahmadinejad couldn’t possibly have won fairly, their poll suggests that the Iranian public did support Ahmadinejad, and the result is likely to be genuine.

This itself has caused much debate – including Gary Langer here, Mark Blumenthal here and Nate Silver here.

So, does the poll show that Ahmadinejad really won after all? Well, the poll itself looks entirely trustworthy. It was a random telephone poll, conducted in Farsi but from outside Iran for the safety of the interviewers, sampling was using random digits on randomly chosen telephone exchanges. There was a good response rate – of 2,364 contact attempts, 42% resulted in interviews (non-contact was 26% and response rate 58%) and the sample was weighted by province, rural/urban, age and gender.

Obviously a phone poll is going to exclude people without a telephone (though phone penetration in Iran is pretty high – even the worst provinces have a penetration above 75%) and the proportion of respondents who classed themselves as middle class seems far too high. However, both these skews would likely favour reformists, not President Ahmadinejad, so if anything it should have underestimated his lead.

Criticism of the poll has largely focused upon the high level of don’t knows and refusals. The figures I gave above exclude these, but in the original sample 27% said don’t know and 15% refused to answer. These don’t seem as outlandishly high as some people have suggested – while it was only three or so weeks out from the election, it was only a couple of days after the main contender had announced his candidacy and before the final candidate list was announced.

That said, people have rightly pondered whether this big chunk of “don’t knows” and refusals were “shy reformers”. Might these figures be people in a police state who didn’t want to admit to a total stranger over the phone they might vote for reformers? We don’t have full cross breaks for the poll, but the authors indicate that the don’t knows were disproportionately (60% to 40%) reformers. If they broke 60-40 in favour of Moussavi the result would certainly be closer, but Ahmadinejad would still be comfortably ahead.

There’s also some comment that the rest of the answers don’t show a populace particularly enamoured by a hardline Conservative President. 60% for example, supported unconditional talks with the USA, 77% favoured normal trade, and 89% supported peaceful US help with nuclear power. 84% supported a free press and 77% think the Supreme Leader should be elected.

However, the Iranian public also expressed some views very much in line with those of President Ahmadinejad. 62% opposed any peace deal with Israel and favoured “all Muslims fighting until there is no State of Israel”, 32% had a negative opinion of Jews. The two biggest threats to Iran were almost universally seen as Israel and the US. 46% thought Ahmadinejad’s policies had succeeded in reducing unemployment and inflation.

My problem with the poll isn’t anything to do with those don’t knows or Iranian people’s policy views – it’s the fieldwork dates, May 11th to May 20th. It took place over three weeks before the election. International coverage of the campaign was suggesting a walkover until the last week or two, when the Moussavi campaign was suddenly being reported as coming to life.

In other words, this poll strongly suggests that had the Iranian election been held on the 20th May, President Ahmadinejad would have won in a landslide. It doesn’t necessarily follow that Iranian public opinion didn’t shift away from him in the three weeks between then and polling day. Equally, it gives no particular reason to think it did – it’s just too early to tell us, though frankly it would be one mighty turnaround and on the balance of probabilities, one has to conclude that the polling evidence (I make no claim on anything else) is in favour of Ahmadinejad genuinely having topped the poll.

That said, it’s also worth echoing a point Nate Silver made: if people were scared to tell a pollster their real intentions, they might well also have been scared to vote that way, so even if polling figures match results, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it was a free and fair election. There’s more to real democracy than just counting the papers correctly.


One of the new additions I asked about in my user survey (I’ll give more results soon, at the moment it’s still open for people who haven’t filled it in yet) was whether people wanted to see more foreign polls here to fill the gaps between British polling figures.

Obviously UKPollingReport is always going to be 99% about British polls, but to fill some of those gaps between polls being released I’m going to occassionally look at the polls in upcoming elections in other countries, so looking in the 2009 calender, that means places like Germany, Iceland and, to start off with, Israel.

Israel goes to the polls on the 11th February, an early election called after the failure of the new leader of Kadima, Tzipi Livni, to form a government. The outgoing Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, led a coalition mainly consisting of Kadima, Labor, Shas and – from 2006 to 2008 – the hard right Yisrael Beiteinu.

The polls since the election was called in October are shown below. You’ll probably notice that the figures often sum to more than 100 – Israel has a famously pure version of proportional representation, a nationwide list system with a threshhold for representation of only 2%, and since share of the vote translates directly into seats it is the norm for polls to show projected seats, not percentage vote. There are 120 seats in total.

Kad Lab Likud Shas YB JH Mtz UTJ Arab
Panels 26/01/09 22 15 29 11 16 6 6 10
Channel 1 25/01/09 22 17 30 10 16 3 5 5 9
Teleseker 23/01/09 24 16 28 9 16 4 6 6 9
Dahaf 23/01/09 25 17 29 10 14 2 5 6 9
Globes 22/01/09 21 15 32 9 16 4 5 5 10
Panels 22/01/09 24 15 30 10 15 2 6 5 9
Gal Hadash 22/01/09 25 15 35 9 12 2 6 5 9
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 21/01/09 22 14 30 11 16 2 7 5 9
Channel 1 20/01/09 21 15 33 9 13 4 5 7 10
Panels 19/01/09 24 14 30 10 15 2 5 5 9
Survey 10 18/01/09 26 14 29 10 14 2 6 5 8
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 18/01/09 23 15 31 12 13 3 6 5 9
Teleseker 16/01/09 26 17 28 9 14 3 5 5 10
Globes 15/01/09 22 16 33 10 14 3 5 7 10
Panels 15/01/09 27 15 29 8 13 2 5 5 10
Reshet Bet 15/01/09 21 15 28 10 15 3 5 7 10
Dialog 15/01/09 25 16 29 9 12 3 7 6 8
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 14/01/09 26 16 28 10 14 3 6 5 10
Panels 12/01/09 28 13 33 8 13 5 5 9
Channel 1 09/01/09 22 16 31 10 14 4 6 7 10
Panels 08/01/09 27 15 31 9 12 2 5 4 9
Gal Hadash 08/01/09 27 15 33 10 10 7 5 10
Globes/Radius 07/01/09 27 12 33 7 11 5 6 4 10
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 07/01/09 25 17 32 10 10 4 6 5 9
Survey 10 07/01/09 27 16 31 11 10 2 7 5 10
Panels 05/01/09 28 15 31 9 13 2 5 4 9
Smith/Jerusalem Post 02/01/09 23 15 29 11 12 3 6 6 10
Teleseker 02/01/09 28 16 28 11 12 4 6 5 10
Panels 01/01/09 27 14 30 8 11 3 7 6 10
Globes 01/01/09 22 12 38 8 15 3 6 4 11
Dialog 01/01/09 27 16 32 9 11 3 7 5 10
Panels 29/12/08 29 14 29 8 13 3 7 4 10
Survey 10 28/12/08 28 16 30 10 10 2 7 5 10
Teleseker 26/12/08 30 11 29 10 12 3 7 5 10
Panels 25/12/08 27 11 30 10 10 6 7 4 10
Reshet Bet 25/12/08 23 14 32 12 12 4 6 7 10
Dahaf 25/12/08 26 12 30 10 12 5 7 6 9
Dialog 25/12/08 26 11 30 13 11 6 8 5 8
Globes/Radius 24/12/08 23 9 35.5 8.5 11 5 10 5 10
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 24/12/08 25 11 31 12 13 5 6 5 9
Panels 22/12/08 29 10 28 10 11 5 6 5 10
Teleseker 19/12/08 30 12 30 9 12 5 7 5 10
Panels 18/12/08 30 10 29 10 11 6 6 6 9
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 17/12/08 25 10 29 12 12 4 5 6 9
Channel 1 16/12/08 21 12 39 12 9 4 8 7 9
Panels 15/12/08 27 13 31 11 10 5 6 5 10
Teleseker 11/12/08 28 12 31 9 11 6 5 5 10
Panels 11/12/08 28 12 32 10 10 6 6 6 8
Reshet Bet 11/12/08 21 15 35 12 11 4 6 7 10
Channel 1 10/12/08 23 11 36 12 9 5 7 6 9
Dialog 10/12/08 27 12 36 9 9 4 6 6 11
Dahaf 10/12/08 24 11 31 11 10 6 7 7 10
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 01/12/08 25 6 33 12 11 7 7 5 10
Gal Hadash 01/12/08 26 8 35 10 10 5 7 5 10
Channel 1 25/11/08 25 7 37 11 8 4 8 8 9
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 20/11/08 28 9 33 9 10 7 6 5 10
Reshet Bet 20/11/08 23 8 34 13 10 7 10 5 9
Dialog 20/11/08 28 10 34 10 10 4 7 6 11
Dahaf 20/11/08 26 8 32 11 9 6 7 7 11
Gal Hadash 13/11/08 28 11 33 10 7 6 7 5 10
Smith/Jerusalem Post 31/10/08 27 14 27 11 11 9 5 6 10
Dialog 30/10/08 31 10 31 10 11 3 5 6 11
Gal Hadash 30/10/08 30 13 31 10 8 6 5 5 10
Channel 1 28/10/08 32 10 28 9 9 6 7 7 10
Teleseker 27/10/08 31 11 29 8 11 7 5 4 11
Dahaf 27/10/08 29 11 26 11 9 7 6 7 10
Maagar Mochot/Channel 2 24/10/08 31 12 29 9 11 8 6 4 10

Since early in November Likud have been leading in the polls. The election period has obviously been dominated by the conflict with Hamas in Gaza, but this has not helped Kadima. Instead the parties that have benefitted since Israel began bombing Gaza on January 27th have been Labor, lead by the current Defence minister, Ehud Barak, and the hardline Yisrael Beiteinu.

It looks very likely that Likud will emerge the largest party, a big turnaround from the last election in 2006 when they were pushed into fourth place after the split in the party that formed Kadima. Naturally, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Likud will be able to cobble together a coalition that wields a majority in the Knesset.

(And my apologies for any strange translations of pollsters’ names, since many came via me putting Hewbrew text in the google translator :) )