According to a Maariv poll published on Friday, if Israeli elections were held today, Lapid’s party would fall from its current 24 seats to only 17, or a drop of just over 29%. Likud, in that poll, fell from 32 to 23 seats, or a decline of just over 28%.
The poll, sandwiched between the gigantic pro-judicial reform demonstration in Jerusalem on Thursday night and the massive anti-judicial overhaul protest in Tel Aviv two nights later – told a story much different than the perception emerging from those dueling demonstrations.
The demonstrations create a feeling that the entire country is passionately either for or against judicial reform. The parties most identified with either side of the issue – Likud and the Religious Zionist Party on the pro-reform side, and Labor and Yesh Atid on the anti-overhaul half of the ledger – should therefore be gaining ground in the polls.
But that is not the case. Instead, the party that in Maariv’s poll – as well as in six other major polls carried out last month (three by Maariv and one each by TV channels Arutz 12, 13 and 14) – is showing the most significant gains is Benny Gantz’s National Unity party, the party that owns the lane calling for genuine dialogue and compromise.
Who are the big losers?
And the big losers: the Likud, Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party together with Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit, and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.
The Likud’s precipitous drop in the polls just four months after establishing a government is understandably what is grabbing the headlines, as well as the polls’ findings: that were elections held today, the parties making up the opposition would be able to form a government, sending the current coalition parties into the opposition.
But what is no less significant is the steep drop in support the polls show for both Lapid and the Religious Zionist Party and Otzma Yehudit – a steeper drop than even that of the Likud.
And that poll was not an outlier. The average of the seven polls in April showed Yesh Atid declining by 22.6%, compared to a 22.3% drop for the Likud.
In other words, four months after the establishment of the government, and 17 weeks after protests began roiling the country, Yesh Atid is dropping a bit more precipitously than Likud.
Those numbers should lead to some soul-searching inside Yesh Atid, especially since Gantz – Lapid’s rival as head of the Center-Left camp – rose a meteoric 133% in the Maariv poll, climbing from 12 to 28 seats. That, too, was no aberration, as an average of the seven April polls had him increasing the party’s strength by %128.5 percent to 27.5 seats.
Since it is not that easy to find differences between Yesh Atid and National Unity’s positions on foreign policy, security and economic issues, the best explanation for this growing gap is that, whereas Gantz has used more inclusive and less divisive rhetoric in his comments about the judicial reform and has indicated a willingness to compromise with the Likud over the issue, Lapid appears much more militant on the matter and is using more strident language. If the polls are an indication, this is not something resonating loud with the public.
The polls also show the Religious Zionist Party and Otzma Yehudit, two parties identified very closely with the reforms, dropping fast as well, going from their present 14 seats to an average of 10 in the seven polls taken in April. That 26.5% drop is even steeper than either that of the Likud or Yesh Atid.
Beyond showing that a willingness to compromise on the issue is what is trending today, the polls also paradoxically show that – as the Knesset began its summer session yesterday – the chances of the government either falling or dramatically changing its composition by the replacement of Otzma Yehudit or the Religious Zionist Party with the National Unity party are slim.
Gantz is positioned to take over PM role
How so? Because if these polls are to be believed, if the elections were held today, Gantz would likely be prime minister. Granted, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, since public sentiments and polls are fluid and change. Also, the entrance of a new moderate right-wing party – perhaps headed by former prime minister Naftali Bennett – could significantly alter this math.
Nevertheless, Gantz and his strategists are all reading these polls (and taking their own surveys) and must certainly be buoyed by the findings.
One of their likely conclusions is that, with their man currently on top, why do anything to bail out the current government? These polls must diminish the appetite of Gantz or anyone else in the National Unity party to join the government to put an end to the chaos and provide the country with some stability.
If Gantz did so, there would be a public howl that would end his rise in the polls, since many would judge him unfavorably for reneging on a promise made before the previous election not to join a Netanyahu government. He reneged on a similar promise in 2020 – amid the coronavirus crisis – and joined Netanyahu’s government with a pledge of rotation, saying this was needed for the country’s good.
The prime ministerial rotation never materialized, and Gantz paid a steep price in the 2021 election. With Gantz currently doing so well in the polls, that lesson is surely being rehashed.
These polls will also now serve as glue binding together the coalition parties. Though Smortrich and Ben-Gvir might have major policy differences with Netanyahu, as the polls show that their strength – as well as that of the Likud – is getting weaker and weaker, their desire to find ways to compromise among themselves will only get stronger and stronger.
Why? Because it’s cold outside the government and these polls leave no doubt that if the government falls, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir will end up outside.
For Netanyahu and the Likud, these polls provide very bad news along with a small slice of solace. The very bad news is that were elections held today, the Likud would no longer be the country’s largest party and would be unable to form a coalition. The slim solace is that this likelihood will keep the increasingly contentious coalition together.
For Gantz, the polls are a mixture of exceptional news tinged with disappointment. The exceptional news is that the judicial reform debate has catapulted Gantz into a different political stratosphere, and were elections held today, he would likely be the prime minister.
The disappointing news is that this success in the polls, alongside the findings that an election today would return the opposition parties to power, will motivate the coalition parties to work out their differences to prevent the government from falling.
And for Yesh Atid, the polling numbers are just plain bad. True, the protests are hurting the government in the polls, but rather than strengthening Lapid, they are helping his rival Gantz, while at the same time serving as a wake-up call to the coalition parties that now is not the time to bring down the government, since if they do so they will get clobbered the next time the elections come around.