Israel elections: Bennett is crashing in the polls

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party would win four seats if an election was held today, losing three seats in a span of three days.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting, March 20, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting, March 20, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party would win four seats if an election was held today, losing three seats in a span of three days, a new poll found on Thursday.

Yesh Atid and Unite Torah Judaism (UTJ) each gained a seat in the poll, while the Likud lost two seats and the Religious Zionist Party lost one. The full results were Likud 34; Yesh Atid 21; Religious Zionist nine; Blue and White eight; UTJ, Shas and Labor seven; Joint List six; Yisrael Beytenu five; and Yamina, Meretz, New Hope and Ra’am all received four.

Despite Yamina’s sharp drop, the coalition parties gained two mandates. The current coalition and opposition blocs tied 57-57, with the Joint List winning the other six seats of the 120-member Knesset. The June 20 poll, which was conducted soon after Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced that the Knesset would disperse, had the opposition leading 59-55.

However, the poll did not indicate any significant new voter trends. The main difference was that, unlike the first poll, Meretz managed to pass the electoral threshold and its votes were not wasted.

Nonetheless, the poll showed movement on the Right, as Yamina voters shifted to Likud and Religious Zionist, Likud voters shifted to Religious Zionist and Religious Zionist to UTJ.

 MK Bezalel Smotrich at Knesset emergency meeting, April 6, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) MK Bezalel Smotrich at Knesset emergency meeting, April 6, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Voter confidence rates

The poll also found a significant difference in voter confidence, with 73% of voters of the opposition bloc saying they were absolutely certain about their vote, compared with just 38% of coalition voters.

Bennett’s party also finished near the bottom in voter confidence, as only 36% of its voters were absolutely certain of their choice. Only Yisrael Beytenu (30%), Labor (29%) and New Hope (25%) had lower voter confidence rates.

UTJ had the highest voter confidence rate (80%), followed by Shas (76%), Likud (75%), and Religious Zionist (59%). The Joint List (55%), Yesh Atid (51%), Ra’am (44%), Blue and White (43%) and Meretz (43%) rounded out the list.

The poll, which found that 13.1% remained undecided, was conducted for Ma’ariv by Menahem Lazar of Panels Politics. It included 727 participants and had a stated margin of error of 3.3%.

What does Bennett's future look like? 

Yamina’s crash brings the question of Bennett’s political future into sharper focus.

A source in Yamina said that Bennett was currently focused on his duties as prime minister, and was not going to decide his next political move until after the Knesset’s official dispersal. He will likely make a decision soon after, KAN reported.

Bennett’s first option is to run again as the head of Yamina, to try to take advantage of his having gained experience as prime minister and focus on his government’s achievements. But if Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, his longtime ally, ditches him for another party, Yamina might not cross the electoral threshold. Even if she stays with Bennett, the poll showed that Yamina’s electoral prospects would be uncertain.

His second option is to merge with another party. The most likely candidate would be New Hope, led by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who has consistently polled close to the electoral threshold. Merging might sound appealing, as both stand a better chance of crossing the threshold together rather than running on their own. Some polls even showed the two running together gaining more than the sum of each on his own.

While this sounds like a good option, it is not so simple. Bennett and Sa’ar have not gotten along well over the past year. Although they overlap on many political issues, Yamina has not ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led government, while New Hope has flatly denied this, and “just not Bibi” is a significant part of its platform.

This leaves a third option, which is to bow out of politics. Some in Bennett’s inner circle believe he may choose to do so, either permanently or to begin planning his return. Previous prime ministers who temporarily stepped away from politics gained electorally upon their return. Bennett might decide to step down and consider a comeback in a few years.