I would like to address some of the responses to my previous post (“It’s all about the blocs: Understanding Israeli election polls“), since they raise an important issue regarding the difference between an analysis of ideology and political behavior.
Several readers challenged my use of the right vs. left division of the entire political system in Israel, claiming it to be simplistic and not matching the ideology of some of the parties. Several examples were made, mostly regarding what I called the center-left bloc. As “Kolumn9″ rightly noted, Kadima is an offspring of the Likud, and ideologically could just the same be counted with the right. Some readers referred to the Arab party Ra’am-Ta’al, whose conservative agenda is very far from that of the Jewish left which has been heavily influenced by liberalism in couple of decades.
Yet, we should remember that I was not trying to say something about ideology. My analysis is based on political behavior, and especially political behavior in the context of determining the identity of the next prime minister. As such, I found this grouping by blocs to be the best analytic tool available. In the context of this election cycle, the working assumption is that after the elections, both Kadima and Ra’am-Ta’al will behave as opposition parties to Netanyahu, or as members of the center-left bloc, regardless whether in essence they are not really left-wing parties.
Furthermore, the possibility that Kadima or Ra’am-Ta’al (or Yesh Atid, for that matter) will join the right following the elections only supports my argument. My main point is that all the data available from the last four years points to the fact that Netanyahu is about to be reelected as prime minister. In other words, I wanted to rule out the opposite assumption, that there are one or more candidates with a fair shot at assembling a new government. Thus, I took the most “optimistic” working assumption for the opposition – assuming a coherent bloc that could join hands in stopping Netanyahu – and checked the data available. It showed that even this rather unlikely scenario falls short of the sixty-seat-threshold. Election predictions should always be taken with a grain of salt, but in this case, the numbers are astonishingly conclusive. The table reflected the best scenario for the left – and even that wasn’t good enough.
In reality, while the right is fairly united and coordinated, the center-left bloc is no bloc at all, and it’s enough to recall that the Arab parties and Hadash didn’t even back Tzipi Livni in the previous round. There are two blocs here – center and left, and both are highly fragmented. The truth is that the red bar is unnecessary. All we need to watch is whether the blue bar falls under the 60 seats line. If that happens, we could speculate on alternative coalition.
A different point of view – one that challanges the blue, rather than the red line – is presented by Brent Sasley in this post.
Over the years, coalition governments have been composed of all sorts of parties along all kinds of spectrums. Shas has served in coalitions led by Likud, Labor, and Kadima, while the National Religious Party has done so with Likud and Labor, and different factions now in United Torah Judaism (UTJ) have entered governments under Labor and Likud.
Third, the size of the two blocs most analysts construct out of the surveys might be too inclusive. Most polls give the “right” bloc about 65-68 seats, and the left about 52-55 seats, or thereabouts. But “right” includes Shas and UTJ. Given these parties’ greater concern with domestic social and economic issues, particularly the need to ensure resources for their respective communities, and the fact that they are not opposed in principle to serving in leftwing governments, it’s not clear they should be so firmly placed in this bloc.
So if Shas (10-11 seats), UTJ (5-6 seats), and the Arab parties (10-11 seats) are removed from the calculation, the results look more like this: rightwing bloc: about 50-53 mandates, leftwing bloc: about 42-45 mandates.
Sasley is correct in recognizing the “greater concern” of the religious parties, but he misses the most consistent element in their political behavior. While it’s true that “coalition governments have been composed of all sorts of parties along all kinds of spectrums,” since 1977, and especially since Peres’ maneuver in 1990, the religious parties agreed to take part in a left or centrist coalition only if the right bloc was denied a Knesset majority of 61 MKs or more. The only exception to this rule took place in 1999, due to the direct voting system which was in effect at the time. For their seats to be in play, the center-left bloc should reach the 60 mark, or if you wish, the right-Orthodox bloc should be denied it. It is a necessary condition – but not a sufficient one – for any alternative to Netanyahu’s coalition to materialize.
This pattern is one of the most consistent elements in Israeli politics, and is not likely to change, especially given the fragmentation in the center and the decision by Netanyahu last summer not to pursue a military draft reform. As for other speculations, such as a Kadima-Lieberman coalition, those are even less likely.
The degree to which voters will internalize this fact will affect their behavior - in both blocs – on the axis between ideological and strategic voting (and non-voting) patterns. I will discuss this issue further in the coming posts.