Public opinion polls are notoriously unreliable in predicting the make-up of the next government. But they do provide a means of measuring public sentiment. And right now, the public isn’t too pleased with the national religious government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
A poll conducted by the N12 news portal at the weekend shows Netanyahu’s Likud party losing its top spot if elections were held today.
According to the survey, Likud would win just 24 seats (down from its current 32), while the National Unity faction led by Benny Gantz would jump from its current 12 seats to 28.
Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party, which currently leads the opposition, would drop to 20 seats (currently 24).
The faltering Labor Party, long the mainstay of Israeli politics, would fail to pass the electoral threshold.
If these numbers were to hold, Gantz would without question be tapped by President Isaac Herzog to form the next government. And together with Lapid and the smaller parties to the center and left he’d be able to form a coalition with a firm majority of 63 out of 120 Knesset mandates.
What’s the deal?
It’s tempting to look at the massive public demonstrations that have filled Israel’s streets for the past 15 weeks as responsible for this shift. And much of the mainstream Israeli media tried to play it that way.
But most of the people out there demonstrating weren’t voting for Netanyahu, anyway. In fact, their protest is as much about disdain for Netanyahu himself as it is opposition to judicial reform.
The real hit in the polls came from right-wing voters who are dissatisfied with the current government’s response to the recent wave of terrorist attacks and cross-border incidents.
Netanyahu has long been known as “Mr. Security,” and with a fully-right-wing coalition in tow, it was believed this government would be stronger against Israel’s enemies than any before it.
But many felt let down by the limited response to rocket fire from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, as well as several deadly Palestinian terrorist attacks during the Passover holiday.
Netanyahu held a press conference assuring Israel that his government was indeed acting, and with great force, but not necessarily in a publicly visible way.
It wasn’t enough to keep many traditional Likud voters from saying they’d cast their next ballot for Gantz.
A true alternative?
Right-wing voters who sit more to the center of the political spectrum feel comfortable casting a ballot for Gantz and his National Unity party, making it perhaps the first true alternative to Netanyahu and his Likud for such voters, and therefore a major threat to Bibi.
Gantz is perceived as a true centrist. His party includes a breakaway Likud faction led by Gideon Sa’ar, who holds very right-wing and conservative positions on Jewish settlement of the biblical heartland and the Jewish character of the state. Gantz also has warm relations with the ultra-Orthodox factions.
But he likewise appeals to center-left voters who just want security, economic prosperity and honest governance, and aren’t overly concerned about ideology one way or another.
This is the reason you now see Gantz gaining support from the constituencies of both Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Netanyahu’s Likud.
Whether or not this newfound support will remain is very debatable. It depends a great deal on what Netanyahu does in the coming months in regard to the security situation, and in particular the Iranian threat.
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