Israel Election Update

I wanted to give you a quick update on the Israeli election.

As I’ve noted earlier, not long after the election was called and the Labor Party announced a union with Tzipi Livni as the ‘Zionist Camp’, the Zionist Camp moved into a thin but durable lead over Netanyahu’s Likud party. That changed last month – seemingly tied to a flare up of violence in the north, though many also pointed to a listless Labor/Zionist Camp campaign. But over the last week or so there seems to have been a shift back to the Zionist Camp.

Most observers praise Labor Party Chairman Yitzhak Herzog but find him simply not a commanding enough personality for the security driven politics of the country. So what is driving these small shifts is not entirely clear. The Zionist Camp appears to have gotten their campaign into gear over the last couple weeks and Netanyahu is beset by a number of medium-scale and somewhat bizarre scandals involving him and his wife. Israelis generally disapprove of how the speech to Congress was handled and want Netanyahu to call it off. But it does not appear to be driving opinion in a significant way.

It is important to note that the margins in either direction have been quite small – never more than two or three Knesset seats in either direction, and often just one. And neither party has managed to poll even near thirty Knesset seats, which itself would only go half way to building the thinnest of parliamentary majorities. But who gets the most seats is critical because that party leader will likely – though not necessarily – get the first chance to form a government.

The best place I’ve seen to follow the polls is this Poll of Polls published by the left-leaning daily Haaretz. It doesn’t get updated as often as I’d like. But it’s the best single aggregation of the polls I’ve found.

Also notable is that support for the Zionist Camp has been fairly stable. It’s Likud’s numbers which have been popping up and down. And the recent, small slide seems mainly to be Likud bleeding support to the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett. More broadly, none of the oscillations we’ve seen in the polls over recent weeks has changed the basic balance of power between left and right, with the right still holding the upper hand. From what I can tell, this is the latest of the premium polls, just out today. It was conducted by Dr. Mina Tzemach for Israel’s Channel 2 and shows the following results …

Zionist Camp: 24
Likud: 22
Bayit Yehudi: 12
Yesh Atid: 12
Joint Arab List: 12
Kulanu: 7
Shas: 7
United Torah Judaism: 7
Yisrael Beytenu: 6
Meretz: 6
Yachad – Ha’am Itanu: 5

As I say, the balance of power between left and right has not appreciably changed since the election was called. Mathematically, Netanyahu would have a much easier time assembling a coalition – though his personal unpopularity among the heads of various other parties may complicate that in a way that transcends conventional math. Meanwhile, Herzog and the Zionist Camp could built a coalition with these numbers but it requires a heroic level of coalitional gymnastics that Netanyahu doesn’t need.

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