It’s all about the blocs: Understanding Israeli election polls

The first couple of polls since the announcing of the new elections are out. Here are the numbers:

Maariv (Teleseker): Likud 29; Kadima 7; Israel Beitenu 15; Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 11; Labor 19; Shas 10; United Torah Judaism 6; The Jewish Home 8; Meretz 4; Ra’am-Ta’al 3; Hadash 3; Balad 4; Atzmaut (Ehud Barak) 2.

Haaretz (Rafi Smith): Likud 29; Kadima 6; Israel Beitenu 13; Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 17; Labor 17; Shas 10; United Torah Judaism 5; The Jewish Home 5; Meretz 4; Ra’am-Ta’al 5; Hadash 4; Balad 2; Atzmaut (Ehud Barak) 0.

> Click here for 972’s Knesset poll tracking page.

While there are some variations between the two polls – especially with regards to the allocation of seats among centrist parties, the number basically confirm what I wrote several days ago: only Netanyahu will be able to form the next government. All other major parties are actually competing for a better bargaining position in the new coalition.

A short explanation on the procedures following the elections is necessary: after the allocation of the Knesset’s 120 seats, each party presents a recommendation to the president (currently Shimon Peres) on which member of Knesset they believe should form the new government. The MK who has the most members behind him gets 45 days to form his or her government. This system has many implications on voter behavior and political dynamics, but what is important for this discussion is the fact that a group of parties which has sixty members combined can determine the identity of the prime minister.

The Israeli right has established a strong coalition of religious and right-wing parties, which is likely to recommend Netanyahu as the next prime minister. For the sake of debate, let us assume that the right is met with a competing bloc, formed by all the left and centrist parties, Zionists and non-Zionists, Jews and Arabs.

If we group the results of the last seven polls into these two blocs, we get a pretty clear picture.

It's all about the blocs: Understanding Israeli election polls

In fact, I have not seen one poll since Netanyahu formed his government back in 2009 where the red line crossed the sixty-seat line. We can therefore assume that 62-63 seats represent an absolute floor for the right, which can only be moved by a ground-shifting event.

To make things worse – or better, depending on one’s views – the red line is actually two lines: one consisting of the centrist parties (Labor, Kadima, Yesh Atid, Atzmaut) and the left-wing parties (Meretz, Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al, Balad). Even in the unlikely scenario that the blue line falls beneath the 60 seat marker, it’s hard to see Balad recommending Yair Lapid in the same way the Arab parties helped Rabin into power in 1992. And if Ehud Barak and his Atzmaut party make it to the Knesset, they might actually prefer to go with Netanyahu.

This doesn’t mean that the elections are meaningless, only that treating them as a horse race with Netanyahu is more likely to result in a Knesset like the current one, where many of the anti-democratic and even racist initiatives came from the opposition, and support for the government has always been guaranteed.

I will discuss realistic goals for the elections in the coming posts.