Electionscape: Time of tribal voting has ended

Polls showing an all-time low in voter turnout next week are part of a trend throughout the Western world.

anshel 88 (photo credit: )
anshel 88
(photo credit: )
Veteran Labor Party leaders in Jerusalem were pleasantly surprised by the warm receptions party head Amir Peretz received during his tour of the capital on Tuesday. Local branch secretary Yaron Armoza said to me, "If we were with Shimon Peres today, they would be cursing us and pelting him with tomatoes." But the real surprise in the visit to the Likud stronghold in the Katamonim working-class neighborhood wasn't the sweets that were tossed Peretz's way or the women who flocked to tell him their troubles with bosses and pensions. No, the real surprise was the appearance of the buildings in the area. Go back in time to any election campaign in the past 30 years, and you would have seen the apartment blocks covered in a curtain of "Mahal" posters. This week the walls are bare. This doesn't mean that Labor can expect a landslide in Jerusalem next week, just that one of the most political communities in Israel has taken a leave of absence during this campaign. The polls showing an all-time low in voter turnout next week are of course part of a trend throughout the Western world. Lack of interest in politics among young voters and a general disillusionment with a citizen's ability to influence government policy have pushed down voter turnout around the world. In Israel the pattern is no different. Whereas some 85 percent of voters cast ballots during the first four decades of the state, the last couple of elections have seen that number decrease to somewhere in the 60s. But if a bare 55% of the electorate vote on Tuesday, it won't only be on account of the world-wide voting malaise. When the time comes to write the history of the Likud, it will be a point of contention as to when it lost its position as a potential party of government. March 28, 2006 will be the obvious choice, but already in the 1999 elections the party received only 19 Knesset seats, just two more than Shas. Ariel Sharon revived the Likud's fortunes and doubled the vote in 2003, but the way Likud flopped immediately following Sharon's departure four months ago shows how artificial the resuscitation was. Even if the final result does not prove as bad for the Likud as the polls currently indicate, it is clear that three generations of tribal voting have come to an end. The classic Likudnik who would vote Mahal even if the party was led by Yasser Arafat is a creature of the past. Those who returned to religion went over to Shas, the secular voters woke up and realized that they were suddenly middle-class and voted Shinui and were joined there by a third of Labor's old voters. Those who stayed loyal to the historical Mapai were shattered when outsider Peretz won the party and Peres left for Kadima. The polls are giving Labor now a similar result to the 19 mandates Amram Mitzna received in the last election, but in-depth polling shows that up to half of Mitzna's voters have left since Peretz's ascension and been replaced by former Likudniks. The classic Israeli voter who stayed loyal for decades to the same party is now someone who used to vote Likud, moved to Shinui, was planning to vote for Kadima this time but, with Sharon having left the stage, likes the look of Peretz yet still isn't able to vote Labor. On Tuesday, like over two million others, he'll stay at home.