Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Exclusive: Four out of five polls are wrong (including this one)

Thank goodness for polls. Without them we wouldn't know what to eat, what to wear, which shampoo really makes your hair naturally curly and bouncy, and, almost as importantly, who to vote for.
Whiskas ran a popular ad campaign back in the 1820s or thereabouts, you wouldn't remember anyway, in which they claimed "Eight out of ten cats said they preferred it". (It was later changed, after the Advertising Piffling Pedantic Party-pooper Association discovered that cats can't actually talk, to the far more accurate: "77% of people who own, or share accommodation with, cats, or other animals of a feline nature, when surveyed, on average, within a 2-standard deviation of the mean, expressed a preference, when pushed, if they had to, for cat food." Which, you must agree, just trips off the tongue.) It was a great ad campaign, and has been widely mimicked over the years – what better praise can one get?

Newspapers love market surveys, no matter how misleading and unhelpful they may be.
Last month, the Jerusalem Post had a lead story along the lines of "Our exclusive survey results: Imaginary party headed by all the centre-left politicos and ex-politicos (not currently in jail) could prove the winning ticket." In their poll, they discovered that a party with the unlikely combination of Tzipi Livni (popular ex-leader who disappointed everyone by coming first in the last elections), Ehud Olmert (ex-prime minister, who recently starred in a court serial drama until it was suddenly pulled), Shaul Mofaz (current party leader, though no one knows where he is) and Yair Lapid (future party leader and ex-bank pin-up) could indeed beat the Likud favourites. Which takes some imagination, as the four wouldn't even share an antipasti let alone a platform. Yet another article for the chattering classes that served no purpose.
In today's The Times of Israel, an electoral poll suggested that Moshe Kahlon, a retiring popular Likud Member of Knesset (hey, he could be called MK MK) could end up as the second largest party, should he choose to run. In other words, "Non-existent party headed by man who has just left politics could come second in the vote." Well there's a useful waste of newsprint.
What should we expect next? "Eight out of ten people said they would buy something shiny if it came in very small handy sizes" or "Tuesdays would be far more popular if they came after Wednesdays, says our exclusive poll."

Moshe Kahlon bidding to set up the Vention 2012 Party  (Photo: Daniel Bar-On, Haaretz)
Now why exactly is Moshe Kahlon so popular?
Well for a start he promoted legislation that limited the commissions that banks charge us. You know the sort of thing: a few shekels for entering the bank, some more for asking a question, several more for having the audacity to want to take your own money out of your account.
But mostly for the past three years, as Minister of Mobile Phones (aka Minister of Communications), Kahlon has wrought changes that have probably benefited more middle- and low-income earners than anything he pushed through as Minister of the Tired, Poor and Huddled Masses (aka Minister of Welfare). He freed the phone market, allowing in more operators, and more network combinations including Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which if you're not quite sure what that means, wait after class and I'll explain it to you. But the main point is, he broke up the market, the products, the services. Instead of having to register with one company and buy your phone, your airtime, your number there, and stay there forever, trapped, at a high price, the market is now more accessible for all, at competitive prices. For example, the newest kids on the block (Golan Telecom and HOT Mobile) sell SIM cards, but not the handsets themselves. Prices are falling, the 'veteran' players are having to play a tougher game to keep their subscribers. New legislation has severely limited what fines must be paid if you choose to leave one of the telecoms companies (whether one of the cellphone companies or your cable or satellite TV company). And most significantly – without which all of these changes would be worthless – you can hop from one operator to another and take your phone number with you.
And in recognition of this, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel chose him as one of the handful of Knights of Quality Government last year, citing his work in "reforms intended to improve the status of the consumer in the telecoms market, particular in the cellphone sector, and including the lowering of connection fees and the introduction of new cellphone operators into the market."

Naturally in this topsy turvy world of Israeli movers and shakers, a popular, award-winning politician is the very type of individual who would choose to leave, and last month he announced he was forgoing politics for a quieter life. However, given the dearth and quality of the ones we're left with, and given that there are still five long weeks before lists have to be submitted for standing in the elections in January, anything could happen.
Anyway, he's a man to watch in my opinion. In fact eight out of ten of my opinions preferred him.

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