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Who are the poor voters? Professor Avraham Diskin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert in election statistics, believes 50 percent of the poor consist of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs. The new immigrants form another large group.

In other words, the absolute majority of the poor tend to vote for sectorial parties. This leaves some 300,000 votes with a relatively low voting percentage, including observant Jews, who vote for Shas.

A poll conducted by Dialog, under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs, for Haaretz over the past fortnight indicates that the most typical poor people's party is United Torah Judaism. This party gets 12 percent of the votes of income earners who earn far below the average. For comparison, UTJ receives only 5 percent of the national vote.

The ultra-Orthodox and Arab parties get a much higher percentage of the poor people's votes than of the general population. The ultra-Orthodox parties get 19 percent of the poor vote (compared to 14 percent of the general population) and the Arab parties get 22 percent (compared to 6.5 percent). The large parties, in contrast, receive much less support from the poor voters than they do from among the general population. Kadima - 19 percent (compared to more than 30.5 percent); Labor - 8.5 percent (compared to 15 percent, almost double) and the Likud 7.5 percent (compared to 11 percent).

These figures explain why Labor or Meretz's social campaign has no chance of changing the political power balance. The poor people in Israel vote sectorial. There are few floating votes among them. Diskin believes "it's not worth it for the (large) parties to fight over these votes. It's futile."

In the 1999 elections MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) spearheaded the public housing law campaign. Cohen says his party received 40,000 to 45,000 votes in the public housing neighborhoods (close to two Knesset seats). But Meretz lost those votes in the 2003 elections.

What can Labor and Meretz do anyway? This article is not about the lower middle class, toward whom their social campaign is directed. It is likely that a considerable part of the votes that moved to Labor from the Likud comes from that class. Anyway, a social campaign is not intended merely for low-income earners. "Meretz received many votes in North Tel Aviv and the kibbutzim due to its social struggle," says Cohen.

800,000 poor voters

How many poor voters are there in Israel? The answer depends on the National Insurance Institute's (NII) definition of the poverty line, which is arbitrary, leaving quite a few poor voters above it. According to the last NII report there were 1.6 million poor people in Israel. Some 850,000 of them are 18 years old or older. Some 70,000 of the poor adults are East Jerusalem Arabs (70 percent of Jerusalem's Arabs are poor), who have no voting rights. That means that there are some 800,000 eligible poor voters - about 16 percent of the eligible voters.

From 2002 to 2005 the poor voters were augmented by some 140,000 voters, due to Netanyahu's economic policy. Many of them are probably Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Russians. The question is, how many of them are former Likud voters, and will punish the Likud for Netanyahu's policy by voting for another party? And will they vote for Labor, or more likely, for Shas?

Most Israeli Arabs (51.6 percent) are poor - i.e. 300,000 poor adults and, after deducting East Jerusalem Arabs (who can't vote), there are some 230,000 eligible voters. In the previous elections 80 percent of the Arabs voted for Arab parties. Labor won 5 percent, less than half a seat, and Meretz won 4 percent.

"This time more Arabs will vote for Jewish parties, because they're tired of the Palestinian issue," predicts Cohen. Statistician Rafi Smith predicts Labor will get up to two Knesset seats from the Arab vote.

125,000 immigrants

Some 125,000 adult immigrants are below the poverty line - 16 percent of the eligible poor voters. They vote for the right-wing and sectorial parties. Studies show about a quarter of the Russians voted in the previous elections for the Likud, National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu and Shinui, and 16 percent of the others voted for Yisrael Ba'aliya. Only 5 percent voted for Labor and 3 percent for Meretz.