Why is the once rising Joint List falling fast in polls?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Ayman Odeh’s Joint List would fall from the 15 seats it received in the last elections to 11 if Israelis headed to the polls today.

A RESIDENT OF Kafr Kassem votes in 2018.  (photo credit: ROY ALIMA/ FLASH 90)
A RESIDENT OF Kafr Kassem votes in 2018.
(photo credit: ROY ALIMA/ FLASH 90)
Channel 13 stirred waves in the political pool on Sunday evening with the broadcast of a Camil Fuchs poll showing that if elections were held today, a right-center coalition could be formed without the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to this poll, the Likud would get 27 seats, only three more than Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party (24) and only six more than Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem list (21).
Bennett and Lapid, together with Blue and White (8) and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu (8), could form a four-party center-right coalition, keeping the Likud and haredi parties out.
That prospect was trumpeted by the network as “dramatic.” And, indeed, it is not an uninteresting political possibility, though a more likely possibility based on the same polling numbers would be the Likud, Yamina and the two haredi parties joining together for a 66-seat coalition.
THERE WAS something else in that poll that was even more significant, but did not garner much attention: Ayman Odeh’s Joint List would fall from the 15 seats it received in the last elections to 11. And while this was the first time that a poll showed a possible center-right coalition without the Likud, this was the third month in a row that the Channel 13 poll showed a significant tumble for the Joint List. In August and September the network’s poll had the Joint List gaining only 12 seats.
In other words, if according to the Fuchs poll the Likud would lose 25% of its seats if elections were held today – dropping from 36 to 27 – the Joint List’s fall, percentagewise, would be an even more precipitous 26.6%, from 15 seats to 11.
The polling among the Arab sector in the Fuchs polls was conducted by the Daliat al-Carmel-based Statnet Institute, headed by Yousef Makladeh. Makladeh said that one key reason for the steep drop is that according to his polling, between 80,000 and 100,000 fewer Arabs intend to vote in the next election, bringing expected Arab voter turnout down from a two-decade high of 64.8% in the last election to 57.7%, were elections to be held today. This, he added, is a trend that has come out clearly in each of the five polls he has conducted this month.
And fewer Arabs voting means fewer seats for the Joint List. This is amply evident by the results of the last three elections. In the election of April 2019, Arab turnout was at a record low of 49.2%, and the two Arab lists running at the time – Ra’am-Balad and Hadash-Ta’al – together won only 10 seats.
In the September 2019 elections, voter turnout among Arabs went up 10% to 59.2%, and the Joint List took 13 seats. And in the last elections in March, Arab voter turnout went even higher, to 64.8%, with the Joint List winning 15 seats, becoming the third-largest party in the country and giving it unprecedented political power and – at least momentarily – a moment in the sun as potential kingmaker.
But now, if the polls are accurately reflecting reality, that trend is reversing itself. And that, according to Makladeh, is not the only interesting trend among the country’s Arab voters. His polls are showing a drop in what in the last election was monolithic support for the Joint List, to the benefit of, believe it or not, the Likud.
If last time the Joint List received votes in the Arab sector alone for 15.3 seats, Statnet’s polls are showing that today the party would receive only 10.7 seats from Arab voters, with enough votes coming from the Jewish sector to bring the party to 11 seats.
In the March 2020 election, Makladeh said that 87% of all Arabs, including Druze, voted for the Joint List. Today that number would stand at 73%, which he termed a “drastic decline.”
“And what is surprising is that the Likud gets about two mandates among the Arabs,” he said, making it the second-biggest party in the Arab sector. In the elections in March, the Likud won only about one-third of a seat, or just over 12,000 votes, as did Labor-Gesher-Meretz, while Blue and White won one of its 33 seats in this sector.
MAKLADEH, WHOSE research center accurately forecast both Arab turnout and votes for the Joint List in the last election, said he believes that there is a great degree of disenchantment with the center-left Jewish parties among Arab voters because of Blue and White’s decision to form a coalition with Netanyahu.
“My analysis is that people are saying, ‘If I vote for Blue and White, but then they go ahead with Bibi [Netanyahu], I might as well just vote for Bibi directly and cut out the middleman.’”
According to Makladeh, the steep decline both in the number of Arabs willing to vote at all, as well as the expected drop in seats for the Joint List, stems from a deep dissatisfaction with the Arab party, somewhat ironic since the party’s 15 seats last time was widely seen as a turning point for Arab political power in the country.
Parts of the Arab public, according to the pollster, are frustrated that even though they turned out en masse last time and voted for the Joint List, it has little to show for it; it is not seen as a legitimate partner for the Jewish parties in the Knesset, it is not part of the government, and it recommended Benny Gantz for prime minister, who then went and joined with Netanyahu.
According to Makladeh, wide parts of the Arab public view the party as “detached” from them and their real concerns.
“They act as if they are a council of wise men, as opposed to the simple, stupid people who don’t understand anything,” he said, bewailing that the party’s leaders do not check what the public wants before taking positions.
Makladeh pointed out two glaring examples, the first being the party’s vote in the Knesset last week against the peace accord with the United Arab Emirates, something he said the majority of the Arab public supports. The Joint List’s argument that this is a peace deal that was signed so that the UAE could get advanced weapons systems from the US did not resonate with much of the public.
“The public wants peace, it does not matter with whom, because it will bring them economic advantages,” he said. More trade with the UAE, more UAE investors coming to Israel, and Israeli companies going to the UAE, will mean more opportunities for Arab-Israelis, who will be seen as the logical middlemen.
Rather than focus on the Abraham Accords’ peace benefits for the community, the Joint List linked the accords with the Palestinian issue. But, Makladeh said, reflecting a trend now apparent in much of the Arab world, the Palestinian issue is less interesting to the Arab-Israelis.
“It is not that they don’t love and support them – a big part define themselves as Palestinian – but they say: ‘This is too big for us. We can’t deal with the Palestinian issue. That should be for the US, Russia and France to work out. It can’t all be on our back.’”
Another glaring example of the party’s detachment from the sentiment of its constituents, he said, was the split inside the Joint List in the summer over the issue of gay conversion therapy. He said this was a perfect example of the party not polling the public to see where it stood on the issue, and instead acting in an “arrogant way, as if it understands, and the people don’t.”
Three of the party’s MKs, all from Hadash, voted for the measure in a preliminary reading of the bill, four voted against, and eight did not vote.
“This shows the depth of detachment from the public,” he asserted. “I would not have gotten into this issue. The Arab public is not ready. We are not Tel Aviv, we don’t have the same awareness regarding this as the secular, educated Ashkenazi elite in Tel Aviv.”
Another problem, according to Makladeh, is that a significant part of the Arab public does not see the party either as pragmatic or able to solve problems.
“It has not been able to stop the demolition of one home, or roll back the Nation-State Law – nothing. There is anger, the public wants solutions, and since they don’t feel that the party is providing solutions, more and more are asking why they should come out and vote.”
And that is something that could have major consequences for the entire political system: lower Arab voter turnout means a smaller Joint List, which in turn means a shrunken center-left bloc and an easier time for the right-wing and haredi parties to form a coalition.
This could be the Israeli political equivalent of the butterfly effect; except instead of a butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings and triggering a hurricane in Texas, it would be people staying home on Election Day in Umm el-Fahm causing a political earthquake in Jerusalem.