35% of Russians opting for Israel Beiteinu

Only 17% back Likud, poll finds, despite Sharansky and Edelstein's presence.

Avigdor Lieberman 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Avigdor Lieberman 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel Beiteinu is leading in the battle for the crucial Russian immigrant vote, according to a Jerusalem Post poll released Thursday by the Smith Institute in Jerusalem. Pollster Hanoch Smith told the Post that the party, which identifies itself with the Russian immigrant community, had strong support among that constituency, with 35 percent favoring it. The party's leader, Avigdor Lieberman, is very popular among Russian voters, he said. Some 20% of the Russians support Kadima and another 17% like the Likud, said Smith. Only 4% are likely to vote for Labor, he said. Russians are more decisive than the rest of the country when it comes to choosing a party, with 14% undecided compared to 19% nationally for undecided voters. Only two of 91 Russians polled, he said, were not planning to vote. But Smith warned that the "Russians were very variable," and could change in large numbers. "They were not the traditional voter," he said. The Israel Beiteinu party continued to improve its standing, he said. His poll shows that it gained one seat from last week, rising to the 9-10 mandate mark. The increase in support puts the party neck-and-neck with the National Union-National Religious Party, Shas and the Arab parties. With less than three weeks to go until the March 28 election, it brings the party close to its initial goal of 10 mandates. Israel Beiteinu MK Yuri Shtern said he was pleased but not surprised by the increase. If the numbers continued to go up, he believed the party could be looking at 12 mandates in the coming election, he told the Post. Sonya Vassilieva, who is in charge of public relations for Israel Beiteinu, said that out of the 10 mandates she believed eight came from the Russian community. Unlike Smith, she calculated that her party had 50% of the Russian vote, with Kadima at 15% and the Likud at 8%. She said there was another 20% of undecided voters, whom they were hoping to sway. On Wednesday night, Kadima made a large play for Russian support hosting a political rally in Rishon Lezion featuring Russian immigrant politicians and Russian-language campaign literature. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to work for immigrant rights. But Vassilieva said she believed the people to target when looking to increase Israel Beiteinu's mandates were the Russian Kadima voters and the undecided ones. Although some 500 people, many of whom were Russian, came out to support Kadima on Wednesday night, Vassilieva said she took comfort in the fact that Kadima had planned a much larger turnout than it received among the Russian voters. While she was hoping to sway Likud voters as well, she believed they were the least undecided among the Russians. "They know they are voting Likud," Vassilieva said. Deputy Immigrant Absorption Minister Marina Solodkin, who is sixth on Kadima's Knesset list, disputed the claim that her party's Russian base was vulnerable. "They [the voters] are centrist and liberal," she said. Israel Beiteinu was neither, she added. She said she believed the Russians in her party were there because they supported its diplomatic and economic policies rather than those of Israel Beiteinu or Kadima. They also recognized that there were more opportunities in a new party. The Likud offered the well-known leader of the Russian immigrant community Natan Sharansky only the 11th spot, she noted. The competition, she said, was for the undecided voter. Likud MK Yuli Edelstein said, however, that like Israel Beiteinu he too believed that the Likud's target among Russians was Kadima and the undecided voters. Edelstein, who is also an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, acknowledged that his party was falling behind Lieberman's when it came to the Russian vote. "There is no doubt that Lieberman is leading and he is very popular," said Edelstein. But he was proof that not everybody who is Russian was aligning themselves with a Russian party. In spite of his respect for Lieberman, he differed with him on diplomatic issues. The party was hoping to target those who agreed with them diplomatically and economically, while convincing them that the Likud offered a warm home to the Russian voters, he said. The Likud's argument, he said, was that it was more likely than Israel Beiteinu to lead the government. "The main question is who is getting the keys to the Prime Minister's Office," said Edelstein. The Likud is asking Russian voters to help make sure that its leader Binyamin Netanyahu, and not Olmert or Labor party leader Amir Peretz, becomes prime minister. The choice, Edelstein said, was to have a party led by Russians or a party leading the government with strong Russian representation. Kadima on Thursday alleged that Israel Beiteinu was offering to give money to those who brought in voters and asked the Central Elections Committee to turn the matter over to the police for investigation. Israel Beiteinu denied all charges of wrongdoing. Its party spokesman said that the issue arose from a newspaper ad seeking paid workers for election day. He said the charge was a direct reaction to his party's rise in the polls, while Kadima was sliding.