Playing a ground game: Explaining Lapid's success

Former journalist Yair Lapid’s meteoric rise can be attributed to his focus on the middle class, says pollster Mark Mellman.

MARK MELLMAN 370 (photo credit: The Mellman Group)
(photo credit: The Mellman Group)
Former journalist Yair Lapid’s meteoric rise can be attributed to his focus on the middle class, says pollster Mark Mellman.
Mellman is president and CEO of the Mellman Group, a research and strategic advice agency, who has helped guide the campaigns of, among others, 18 US senators. He was also Lapid’s personal pollster during the campaign for the 19th Knesset.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post by phone from Tel Aviv, Mellman explained what he thinks contributed to Lapid’s strategic coup.
The first factor in the success of any campaign, Mellman said, is having what he terms an “outstanding candidate. The most important asset any campaign has is the candidate.”
However, beyond the personal appeal of Lapid, he believes, there stands another factor that accounts for the new faction’s electoral success: the ability to appeal to the middle class.
“Yesh Atid really emerged very clearly as the voice of the middle class Israeli, and that’s something that hasn’t happened before,” Mellman said.
“People have talked about economic issues, they have talked about social issues, but nobody really – no party, no individual – has emerged as the champion of the middle class. There was a thirst for that kind of champion.”
Continuing in this vein, Mellman distinguished Yesh Atid’s strategy from that of the Likud and stated that Lapid’s focus has been predominantly on economic and social issues.
“The campaign was very focused on the middle class and on the cost of living, and obviously at the last minute you saw some attempt on the part of the Likud to try and step into those issues– and I think that was a little too little and a little too late.”
“The prime minister’s campaign was fundamentally focused on security issues and on the strength of the country. That was a very different kind of focus than [the one] we had,” he said, indicating that a focus on social issues was important to many voters.
This focus on the middle class that he claims helped propel the party to its surprise success at the polls was “embedded in a larger narrative about old politics versus new politics,” he explained.
“The old politics, which the people were pretty sick of, was about parties that take care of themselves and take care of their own special constituencies, and ignore the needs of the broad middle class,” Mellman said.
“Yesh Atid wanted to replace that with a new and different kind of politics that’s focused on the middle class, and that message found a lot of support and created a real sense of hope in the country that was very important,” he continued.
As a pollster, Mellman’s job revolved around watching Lapid’s numbers, but he claims that “more than following the polls, the leaders led the polls.”
While he says that he has not had a chance to go through the exit polls, he says, Yesh Atid “obviously did very well in the cities and particularly in Haifa, in Tel Aviv, in some of the Tel Aviv suburbs here.”
“In general I think what was surprising in a way, and heartening, is that it was really a pretty broad coalition,” he noted.
“Unlike the parties of the past that tend to represent one sector,” Mellman said, “Lapid really drew from Right and Left; from religious and secular; from Ashkenazi and Sephardi; from all different parts of the society. I think that is a very fundamental strength.” Part of that strength, he added, comes from relentless campaigning by all of the candidates on the party’s slate, such as Anglo candidate and haredi Rabbi Dov Lipman – and of course, Lapid himself.
“Yair started a while ago with these kitchen table meetings all across the country, all up and down the country.” This groundwork, he emphasizes, is what really led to Yesh Atid’s rise.
These meetings were with “families and their friends in their homes. Sometimes there were meetings of five or 10, sometimes meetings of 25 or 50, but over the course of literally hundreds of these meetings he met thousands and thousands of Israelis face to face, where obviously he was able to listen to their concerns and got a very clear sense of what the middle class yearnings were in the country.”
Lapid, he says, used these meetings to his advantage to “impress many people on a one-to-one basis” who later “really became important evangelists, if you will, messengers for the campaign.”
However, he says, the real surge in support for Yesh Atid only came later in the campaign.
“And then there was obviously an Internet campaign that only kicked in in the last 10 days, and people have been saying, ‘Well gee, all of this sort of happened in the end.’ Well, there’s truth in that.”
“I think the groundwork was laid beginning a long time ago, but I also think that the thing that is not recognized is that a lot of people didn’t hear the party’s message until fairly recently because of the restrictions on campaign spending for a new party. Our Internet advertising campaign really kicked in in the last 10 days.
Obviously, our intensive field work of phone calling and door-to-door efforts kicked in in the last couple of weeks,” he said.
Mellman returned to the theme of representing the middle class when asked what would differentiate Yesh Atid from Kadima, another centrist party that started big and which has lately faded from prominence.
Kadima, he said, “was a party of political convenience. Yesh Atid is a movement on behalf of the middle class. Kadima existed largely because of exactly the kind of politics needs that I was referring to a few moments ago. It’s about a party taking care of itself, making its own people have power, and Yesh Atid is a party that is a movement that represents a broad, large and now activated constituency in this country.”