For two years Israeli public opinion polls have consistently shown that early national elections would lead to a firm victory for Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party.
But just hours after Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni announced on Sunday that she had failed to form a new government to replace that of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and was recommending early elections, two separate polls suddenly showed her in the lead.
A poll conducted for Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper showed Livni's Kadima Party winning a commanding 29 Knesset seats in the upcoming election. Netanyahu and the Likud came in second with 26 seats.
Rival newspaper Ma'ariv featured a poll showing Livni's Kadima winning to 31 seats to Likud's 29.
Media analysts suggested manipulation of the polling data, noting that both newspapers failed to disclose the large number of undecided respondents that always accompany election season polls, as well as their method for weighting the remaining votes.
An official from one of the polling companies later told Israel Radio that "in polls carried out three months before elections the number of undecided respondents is around 15-20 percent." He further explained that around 11 percent usually refuse to reply, and another 11 percent say they are not voting in the election.
It was also pointed out that on Friday, just one day before Livni announced she was recommending early elections, Israel's Channel 2 News reported the results of a poll that showed the Kadima leader finally closing the gap with Netanyahu. It was later revealed that that poll had been conducted three weeks earlier by the Kadima Party itself.
Israel's television news channels were widely criticized for pulling a similar stunt during the Kadima primary election in September. Just 30 minutes before the voting stations closed, all three of Israel's news channels broadcast poll results claiming that Livni had won the election by a double-digit margin.
Several hundred potential voters for rival Shaul Mofaz were estimated to have simply left polling stations before casting their vote, having been convinced that their candidate had no chance of victory.
A hour later, it was revealed that Livni had won the election by a mere 1 percent, or only several hundred votes.
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