Poll: Despite smears, left’s brand has not been damaged

According to a couple of new polls conducted by the Meretz Party, 18-19 percent of Israeli Jews identify themselves as ‘leftists.’ The party’s recently elected leader, Zehava Galon, is hopeful regarding the chances to ‘bring them home.’

Yossi Gurvitz and I met with Meretz’s leader, Zehava Galon this week. The most left-wing Jewish party fell from a peak of 12 Knesset seats in 1992 to an all-time-low of three MKs in the last elections. Galon herself was left out of the Knesset, but the resignation of the former party leader Haim Oron in March 2011 allowed her back. She was elected as the new head of Meretz on February 2012.

Under Galon, Meretz is expected to have a sharper left-wing tone, but some fear that this would alienate the party’s potential voters. The common wisdom is that many Israelis identify with most of Meretz’s positions – especially the opposition to the occupation and the criticism of privatization and neo-liberalism – but only few are ready to be identified with the party or even referred to as “leftists.”

Meretz conducted a couple of polls this month, trying to figure out how Israelis define their political orientation. The first poll, conducted by phone, had the following results:

Left: 8 percent
Moderate Left: 11
Center: 30
Moderate right: 15
Right: 24
Refuse to answer: 12

A similar question on an internet-based poll brought pretty similar results:

Left: 6
Moderate left: 12
Center: 35
Moderate right: 28
Right: 19

Galon says that the results are consistent with similar polls conducted prior to previous elections, which means that the right-wing tone of the last few years and the attacks on left-wing organizations didn’t actually change how Israeli Jews identify themselves politically. She estimates that the next elections will see a return of voters from the center to the left, and that with the right circumstances and a successful campaign, Meretz could get up to nine seats.

UPDATE: +972’s Dahlia Scheindlin, who run similar polls before the previous elections, adds: “those numbers are completely stable and have been that way for a number of years, at least the last five. The left varies from 15-21% (total) from poll to poll; the right is generally 40% or above for more than a decade now.” 

Galon also thinks that there is even a chance to create a Knesset bloc of the Arab parties, the Jewish left and the center which will prevent a majority led by Netanyahu, though she agrees it’s a long shot. I think that there is no such chance. I haven’t seen one poll since the last elections in which Netanyahu’s base – the rightwing and orthodox parties – has less than 60 seats. My guess is that Netanyahu’s floor is somewhere around 63-64 seats, and the ceiling is in the low seventies. These numbers are very stable, suggesting that it would take more than a spin or a surprising political development to change them. The polls also give a good indication to the strength of the right, which, in the online poll, comes close to 50 percent of the public.

Still, I think Meretz is right in assuming that they can add a couple of seats or more in the next Knesset, especially if the center remains so fragmented. In the last elections, many voters turned from the left to Tzipi Livni, hoping she could stop Netanyahu. Labor and Meretz got 16 seats combined, and that’s when Ehud Barak, which had some appeal at the center, led Labor. It seems that both parties can cross the 20-seat threshold (combined), and perhaps even go further, if Shelly Yachimovich can get some votes from the center.

In the previous elections Meretz also lost around 5,000 votes to the Arab-Jewish party Hadash, probably due to its early support for operation Cast Lead (or not clear enough of an opposition). This probably ended up having Meretz’s forth seat end up at Labor. I asked Galon – who opposed the war – whether Meretz would support another IDF offensive operation. She said no. I asked whether it was her position or the party’s. She said that the two are the same, but later added that she won’t be able to control the opinion of every Knesset Member, nor would she try (“we don’t have a thought police here”). She didn’t fail to mention the support of some elements in Hadash for the Assad regime – a source of much embarrassment to many of the party’s voters, including myself.

We discussed some of Meretz positions – the two-state solution, Zionism, the occupation and more. I will try to write about those issues in the coming days.