Analysis: Contradictory poll results not sign of split personality

How can the Zionist Union be leading the Likud, but so many more people still of the opinion that Netanyahu is more suited to lead the country?

March 13, 2015 07:37
3 minute read.
Netanyahu and Herzog

Netanyahu and Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,REUTERS)

At first glance, the results of the final polls being published before Tuesday’s election look contradictory.

On the one hand, the polls, such as Thursday’s Jerusalem Post/Ma’ariv Sof Hashavua survey conducted by Panels Research, showed the Zionist Camp trending up, with 25 Knesset seats, and the Likud at just 21.

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But, on the other hand, a Dialog poll in Haaretz found that when asked who is more appropriate to serve as prime minister, the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu or the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog, fully 48 percent of respondents said Netanyahu, and only 34% said Herzog. The remainder gave no answer.

But how can that be? How can the Zionist Union be leading the Likud, but so many more people still of the opinion that Netanyahu is more suited to lead the country? Does this not indicate a certain split-personality disorder among Israeli voters? No, what it reflects is the behavior of the voters inside the all-important blocs. It also goes a long way toward defining which parties are in those all-important blocs.

Since the election was called in December, there has been no small degree of confusion about which parties make up which blocs.

From the outset, it was clear that the Likud and Bayit Yehudi comprise the Right, and that the Zionist Camp, Meretz and the United (Arab) List make up the Left. In the interim, Eli Yishai’s Yachad party has emerged and, of course, is very much a part of the right wing.

But what about the other parties. Are the haredi parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – on the Right? Although their constituents generally do empathize more with the right wing, the parties’ leadership historically have shown a willingness to join a government with either Labor or the Likud, if their demands are met.

And the other parties, where are they on the map? One of the oddities of the early days of the campaign was Avigdor Liberman trying to re-brand his Yisrael Beytenu party as centrist, an attempt that has tapered off as his party’s fortunes have nose-dived following allegations of massive corruption.

His recent comment about beheading those who betray the state would seem to take him out of the centrist camp, as well. Nevertheless, he is still trying to keep all options open and not saying whom he will recommend to the president to form the government, if indeed he passes the electoral threshold – something no longer a given.

Both Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid also are trying to carve out niches in the Center, with Kahlon adamantly refraining from saying whom he will recommend for prime minister, and Lapid not entirely ruling out joining another government with Netanyahu.

But the Post poll gives a good indication of what the country’s true blocs are – who is Right, who is Left and who, indeed, is in the middle.

According to this poll, the three parties making up the Left – the Zionist Union, Meretz and the United List – will get 43 Knesset seats in the election, or roughly 36% of the Knesset. That 36% explains very well the 34% of the public who think Herzog is best suited to be prime minister.

But the other figures need some explaining. According to the poll, the three obvious right-wing parties – the Likud, Bayit Yehudi and Yachad – will garner 37 seats together – but that only adds up to 31% of the Knesset, and far less than the 48% who felt Netanyahu is better suited to be prime minister. Where do the other 17% come from? From Shas, UTJ and Yisrael Beytenu. Only when their 17 seats are added in, do the figures match.

A right-wing bloc consisting of the Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Shas, UTJ, Yachad and Yisrael Beytenu would get 55 seats, or 45% of the Knesset, not far from the 48% who said Netanyahu is best suited to be prime minister. Therein lies the right-wing bloc.

In the Dialog poll, another 18% did not answer when asked who is better suited to lead the country, Netanyahu or Herzog. That number accounts for the Center – Yesh Atid and Kulanu. In the Post poll, they together won 23 seats, or 19% of the Knesset.

That 19% could very well explain the 18% who said neither candidate was suited to lead.

Solving the discrepancy of how the Zionist Union is polling strongly, but Netanyahu is still the favored candidate for prime minister, leads to a simple conclusion: Come Wednesday – the day after the election – Kulanu and Yesh Atid will likely be reveling in their roles as kingmakers.

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