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It's all about the blocs: Understanding Israeli election polls

The first couple of polls since the announcing of the new elections are out. Here are the numbers:

Maariv (Teleseker): Likud 29; Kadima 7; Israel Beitenu 15; Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 11; Labor 19; Shas 10; United Torah Judaism 6; The Jewish Home 8; Meretz 4; Ra’am-Ta’al 3; Hadash 3; Balad 4; Atzmaut (Ehud Barak) 2.

Haaretz (Rafi Smith): Likud 29; Kadima 6; Israel Beitenu 13; Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 17; Labor 17; Shas 10; United Torah Judaism 5; The Jewish Home 5; Meretz 4; Ra’am-Ta’al 5; Hadash 4; Balad 2; Atzmaut (Ehud Barak) 0.

> Click here for 972’s Knesset poll tracking page.

While there are some variations between the two polls – especially with regards to the allocation of seats among centrist parties, the number basically confirm what I wrote several days ago: only Netanyahu will be able to form the next government. All other major parties are actually competing for a better bargaining position in the new coalition.

A short explanation on the procedures following the elections is necessary: after the allocation of the Knesset’s 120 seats, each party presents a recommendation to the president (currently Shimon Peres) on which member of Knesset they believe should form the new government. The MK who has the most members behind him gets 45 days to form his or her government. This system has many implications on voter behavior and political dynamics, but what is important for this discussion is the fact that a group of parties which has sixty members combined can determine the identity of the prime minister.

The Israeli right has established a strong coalition of religious and right-wing parties, which is likely to recommend Netanyahu as the next prime minister. For the sake of debate, let us assume that the right is met with a competing bloc, formed by all the left and centrist parties, Zionists and non-Zionists, Jews and Arabs.

If we group the results of the last seven polls into these two blocs, we get a pretty clear picture.

In fact, I have not seen one poll since Netanyahu formed his government back in 2009 where the red line crossed the sixty-seat line. We can therefore assume that 62-63 seats represent an absolute floor for the right, which can only be moved by a ground-shifting event.

To make things worse – or better, depending on one’s views – the red line is actually two lines: one consisting of the centrist parties (Labor, Kadima, Yesh Atid, Atzmaut) and the left-wing parties (Meretz, Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al, Balad). Even in the unlikely scenario that the blue line falls beneath the 60 seat marker, it’s hard to see Balad recommending Yair Lapid in the same way the Arab parties helped Rabin into power in 1992. And if Ehud Barak and his Atzmaut party make it to the Knesset, they might actually prefer to go with Netanyahu.

This doesn’t mean that the elections are meaningless, only that treating them as a horse race with Netanyahu is more likely to result in a Knesset like the current one, where many of the anti-democratic and even racist initiatives came from the opposition, and support for the government has always been guaranteed.

I will discuss realistic goals for the elections in the coming posts.

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    1. anass

      Raam-Taal is a right-wing party, to be arab or muslim doesn’t mean share leftist values, even in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        This is a very important point. Ultimately, the Arab, particularly the active Muslims among them are much closer to lifestyle and values to the religious Right in Israel than they are to the “progressive” Left. It will eventually be the Religious-Right in Israel that reaches a modus-vivendi with the Arab population, and not the Left because most of the Arab/Muslim population is conservative, religous, family oriented, and opposed to the secular, consumerist, materialist values the Israeli Left propagates, particularly in the media, and traditionalist people, both Jews and Muslim and Christians (too a somewhat lesser extent) find the Left’s values to be anathema.

        Reply to Comment
        • So Bibi isn’t “consumerist” and “materialist?” Does that go for his big money supporters? How’d they get that big money?

          And religious Muslims are to approve of the occupation? Because everyone knows God (alias YHWH and Allah) wants resident Bank Palestinians expunged or muzzled? A grand coalition.

          Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            Your comments repeatedly use gross overgeneralizations and stereotypes. From the 1920’s up to 1977, the dominant (VERY dominant) political movement in Israel was Labor Zionism or Socialist Zionism. They dominated the media, the education system and the general public discourse. The political Right (Herut-Likud) were treated as pariahs and the religous were politically and ideologically neutralized, even if they did sit in the coalition. The 1977 election ended this situation. Since then, the Right-Religious bloc has been the dominant one, even if the Left has on occassion won elections, usually by masking their intentions. This is due to the collapse of the Labor Zionist ideology and demographic changes. Thus, many on the secular Right do, to some extent, have a secularist, materialist, consumerist value system, but they are poltically allied with the Religious bloc and are willing to make some concessions to them, because both sides still believe in the core values of Zionist….security, settlement and ingathering of the Exiles, which, as I point out in a comment further down, the political Left has greatly weakened on.
            Your comment that the religious are looking to expel the Palestinians is non-sense, even if a small minority may talk about it. The vast majority of the Right/Religious bloc realizes the Arabs are here to stay, just as the Jews are, and that some sort of modus-vivendi will come about even as everyone now realizes that a contractual, compromise peace is not possible and never was in the cards.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      The cut-off for where the center-left ends and the right begins seems to shift on a regular basis. Also, why is this presented as the right versus the center-left as opposed to say, the center-right versus the left?

      Kadima is a child of the Likud that has recently voted into power Mofaz. Yesh Atid is an unknown. Judging by Lapid’s statements on Jerusalem, Zionism, settlement, and the Palestinians Yesh Atid is a center-right party. Putting Barak into the center-left is also questionable.

      There is also absolutely no good reason to group the Arab parties with the left. Neither Balad nor Ra’am can ideologically sit in any government dominated by Zionist parties and it would be political suicide for the Arab representatives of Hadash to do so.

      So, basically, the numbers are even more hopeless for the left than they are usually presented.

      Center-Right: 85 seats
      Left: 25 seats
      Arabs: 10 seats

      Chance of a government that would make significant concessions to the Palestinians: 0

      Reply to Comment
    3. XYZ

      The Left bloc suffers from many defects. First of all, the basic ideolog yand values that it was founded on and on which it ran the country up unti 1977 has collapsed. This was a belief in Socialism and activist Zionism which included security, aliyah and building up the land. Every one of these values has been more or less chucked out. Olmert ran his campaign in 2006 on the slogan “we will make Israel a ‘fun place to live'”.

      Today, all the Left bloc agrees on is (1) hatred of Netanyahu, (2) opposition to Haredim-unless the Left can offer them more than the Likud and thus lure them into a coalition, (3) Opposition to the settlers, even though once in power they generally ignore this with the notable exception of Sharon and Gush Katif.

      Secondly, although the anti-Zionist Arab parties are considered part of the Left bloc, this is, again, because of opposition to Netanyahu and the Right, but not because they really identify with what the other Left-bloc parties do when in power, which is still too-Zionistic for them.

      Third, most of the leaders of the Left-bloc parties, like Olmert, Livni, Mofaz are renegades who came originally from the Likud and who once mouthed Right-wing slogans when it suited them and their personal ambitions. These people have proven themselves to have no ethics or stable values and some of them are also convicted criminals. Thus, few voters really have any confidence in them.
      The only thing that binds them together is lust for power, not any sort of joint values. Then there is Lapid Jr who is a television personality and is simply trying to reprise his father’s ultimately futile political career based on celebrity-ness.

      Finally, the platforms of the various constituent parties of the Left-bloc are often contradictory….Labor supports “social welfare” and residual socialist values, KADIMAH is ‘pro-capitalist’, the Arab parteis are anti-Zionist, Labor and KADIMAH are still nominally Zionist, some parties are still demanding more and more concessions to the Arabs in a vain attempt to lure them to negoations, others are more skeptical.

      I predict the main propaganda line of the Left will be “the Likud gave too much to the Haredim”. This was the line used during the successful attempts by the Left to oust sitting Likud governments in 1992 and 1999. However, the LIkud was badly divided in those two elections, and that is not the case this time, and in those elections people still believed in the so-called “peace process”, but the large majority of Israelis, including many Left-bloc voters have given up on it. So we will see what happens.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mitchell Cohen

      I think XYZ sums things up pretty well….

      Reply to Comment