How Blue and White tries to break the cycle of electoral purgatory

Political Affairs: Searching for the swing votes

BLUE AND WHITE leader Benny Gantz at a campaign rally this week – his party still does not have a path to a government of the Center-Left. (photo credit: Courtesy)
BLUE AND WHITE leader Benny Gantz at a campaign rally this week – his party still does not have a path to a government of the Center-Left.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz have both had a busy week. The leaders of the two largest parties have been crisscrossing the country, meeting voters, giving speeches, doing events and trying to drum up support and enthusiasm for the coming election.
But the truth is, the country is in political gridlock, and the polls are not moving decisively in any direction.
One week the Center-Left picks up a couple of seats, the next week they swing back to the right wing, and neither side ever obtains a majority of 61 MKs to form a coalition.
And it has been this way ever since new elections were called at the end of May last year.
Although Blue and White is currently the biggest party, with the polls consistently predicting that it will preserve this status after the March election, Gantz’s party still does not have a path to a government of the Center-Left.
Blue and White strategist Israel Bachar says that the political deadlock is a result of not having had a new government to assess since the first election in April.
The polls have barely changed from those election results, since no government has taken office and been able to enact a series of measures by which the public could evaluate it.
Combined with the tribalism of the pro-Bibi, anti-Bibi camps, this situation means that there is little that can change the mind of the electorate.
WHAT, IF anything, can Blue and White do to extricate the country from a seemingly interminable cycle of electoral purgatory?
There are potential alternatives for Gantz’s party to form a government, such as a unity government with the Likud, peeling off the more moderate elements of the right-wing bloc such as the New Right component of Yamina, or the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which is more moderate than its Ashkenazi counterpart, United Torah Judaism.
And there is also the nuclear option of forming a minority government with external support of the Joint List of Arab parties to ensure that such a government is not defeated by votes of no confidence.
But all of these possibilities are extremely difficult to achieve for their own reasons.
Blue and White itself has promised not to sit in a government with Netanyahu since he has been formally indicted, Shas and New Right have pledged not to sit with Blue and White, and relying on support from the Arab parties is political kryptonite.
Senior Blue and White sources acknowledge the impossibility of forming a center-left government of 61 MKs, but are now aiming for a more modest achievement: beating the Likud by a larger number of mandates than in the September election, to give it greater legitimacy as the leading political party in the country, and affording it greater credibility as the only party able to form a government.
If Blue and White can beat the Likud, not just by the one seat it did in the last election, but by three or four seats, it could bring greater pressure to bear on Shas and New Right to abandon the right wing, given public loathing for fourth elections.
It might even bring about greater pressure on Netanyahu from within the Likud to stand down as head of the party and pave the way for a Blue and White, Likud unity government.
Alternatively, Blue and White could try to claim a popular mandate based on its plurality of the Jewish vote to form a minority government supported externally by the Arab parties, just to overcome the political stalemate that the overwhelming majority of the country is sick to death with.
The most realistic way for Blue and White to get more voters at this stage is on the Right, since its positions on security issues and the conflict with the Palestinians are considered right-wing, and left-wing voters are more likely to stick with Meretz-Labor.
WHAT, THEN, is the party’s strategy for boosting the number of votes it receives in March?
The first aspect of its strategy is the population segments it is targeting.
Among those are disillusioned, moderate Likud voters, the kind of people who identify with the Likud’s founding as a Revisionist Zionist party, are socially and economically liberal, hawkish on security and the Palestinians, but put off by Netanyahu and his shift to the populist Right, as well as his criminal indictments.
Then there are young Russian-speaking voters, the second generation of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are also hawkish on security issues, secular in their outlook and resentful of the state religious establishment that repeatedly insults and scorns them.
Moderate religious-Zionist voters, those who are also politically right-wing but socially liberal and put off by the radicalism and conservatism of the hard-line segment of the community and its political leadership, are another target for Blue and White.
Two other population groups mentioned as possible sources of more votes are the Arab sector and the Ethiopian Jewish community.
There are not large numbers of swing votes available in any of these groups, but if Blue and White can peel off a segment of each group from the parties they traditionally vote for, then it may have a chance to boost its total Knesset seats tally further above the Likud.
And each target population may be amenable to a different message.
Moderate religious Zionists may be persuaded to leave the right-wing bloc by the state-oriented attitude of Blue and White’s religious-Zionist MKs, which the party has juxtaposed to the increasing radicalism of the hard-line politicians of the religious-Zionist parties, one of whom says he wants a state based on Jewish law, and another who said he wanted to take a bulldozer to the Supreme Court.
Disillusioned Likud voters may be swayed by messaging about Netanyahu’s alleged corruption, and Russian-speaking voters by Blue and White’s pledges on boosting the healthcare system.
Blue and White’s recent heavy focus on the failings afflicting the health service is based on the idea that voters may be swayed to change their political allegiance based on problems they might have experienced in their daily lives.
And it is hoped that the very fact that Blue and White has a manifesto detailing its different policy positions and objectives, and that it is talking about real issues affecting the public, will contrast with the Likud’s continued failure to produce a similar party platform and discuss everyday concerns of the electorate.
One final gambit that Blue and White has in store in the final days of the election campaign is to make a push for left-wing voters, appealing simply to their desire to remove Netanyahu from office.
By arguing that this will be possible only if Blue and White defeats the Likud by as big a margin of Knesset seats as possible, Gantz’s party may be able to gain a few more thousand votes in this way as well.
Ultimately, the number of potential swing voters out there who may switch sides to Blue and White remains very small, and the party will be hard pressed to improve on its previous two results.
But its ability to break the country’s political logjam in its favor does appear dependent on whether it can mop up the wavering voters from the marginal segments of the population’s varied sectoral divisions.