Israel Election: What will impact voter turnout? - analysis

Predicting is unwise. But here are five factors that will impact how many voters cast ballots.

Drive-by voting in the Israeli election amid the coronavirus pandemic 2021 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Drive-by voting in the Israeli election amid the coronavirus pandemic 2021
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Predicting voter turnout in an Israeli election is unwise because it often goes against common sense.
Conventional wisdom would say that the more elections you have, the lower the turnout. After all, in less than two-and-a-half years – after three national elections, plus mayoral races (and in Jerusalem and other cities, mayoral runoffs) – aren’t people sick of voting already?
But the turnout has actually gone up: from 68.5% in April 2019 to 69.8% in September 2019 and 71.5% in March 2020.
So what will happen in the March 23 election? Again, predicting is unwise. But here are five factors that will impact how many voters cast ballots.
Erring on the airport: Everyone has been talking about the Israelis who are stuck abroad and cannot come home. But political strategist Tal Alexandrovich said on Wednesday that the true impact on the election could be that a record number of Israelis will be in the country on Election Day. The airports have opened, but only to a few destinations, most of which are less safe than here due to COVID-19. Business trips and vacations abroad still aren’t happening. That theoretically could increase turnout.
Pandemic prognosis: On the one hand, there are plenty of Israelis who are still staying at home, because it is better to be safe than sorry during a pandemic that experts keep saying is far from over. There are those who will be afraid of standing in line to vote or traveling to the polling station.
But on the other hand, everyone seems to have an opinion on the government’s handling of the coronavirus, which impacted their everyday lives in countless ways, for better or for worse. Won’t they want to have their say in the ballot box? If they do, the Central Elections Committee is committed to bringing even the sick and quarantined to vote.
Ardent Arabs: The rise in turnout from the second election to the third needs to be put in perspective by separating the turnout of Jews and Arabs. The Jewish turnout actually went down from September 2019 to March 2020, while the Arab turnout jumped from 59.2% to 64.8% due to hopes that the reunited Joint List would help depose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Joint List won 15 seats; in total, 17 Arab and Druze Knesset members were elected, more than in any previous election.
Now, the Joint List is divided again, and no one knows whether both parts will cross the electoral threshold. Perhaps the tragic shooting death of 14-year-old Muhammad Abdelrazek Ades and wounding of 12-year-old Mustafa Osama Hamed will motivate Arab voters to cast ballots and impact their future.
Thrusting for the threshold: There are four parties that are polling between three and five seats: The Religious Zionist Party, Blue and White, Meretz and Ra’am. No one knows how many of them will win the 3.25% of the vote needed to make the next Knesset. That could make their supporters more motivated to cast ballots and save the parties, or it could persuade them to give up hope and stay home – or vote for someone else.
Polling on Arab and Bedouin voters in the South that make up Ra’am’s political base has been historically ineffective, making the staying power of Mansour Abbas’s party even more unpredictable.
Wondering about the weather: In a normal country, voter turnout is decided in part by whether it rains, and if it is too hot or too cold. In Israel, where history is made with every election, the forecast should be trivial. But people are people, and the weather in March goes back and forth between cold and hot, rainy and dry.
The weather was so good in the September 2019 election that newscasts reported a record number of Israelis had gone to the beach. Nevertheless, they also went to vote. The politicians who went to the beaches with megaphones might have helped. Similarly this time, turnout could be impacted not only by political storms but also by real ones.