The Likud Conquered the Middle Class

Election analysis: Zionist Union may have gained more seats in 2015 than two years ago, but Shelly Yacimovich was actually a bigger draw among the middle and lower middle classes.

Rotem Shtarkman
Rotem Shtarkman
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A Likud poster is replaced, the morning after Election Day, March 18, 2015.Credit: AP
Rotem Shtarkman
Rotem Shtarkman

Analysis on how Israelis voted in last week’s election – voter turnout was 71.8% – produces some surprising facts, especially in regard to places where voter turnout soared and in outlying areas...

1. Zionist Union’s decisive defeat

During the entire election campaign – and even after the scope of Zionist Union’s defeat became clear – senior Labor Party officials supported the merger with Tzipi Livni, and rightfully so. It was a game changer that gave the party an enormous boost.

The party surged from a projected 13 seats and sagging in the polls four months ago to almost double that as Zionist Union. It won 24 seats in the election, compared to a combined 21 (with Livni’s Hatnuah) in the outgoing Knesset. This merger also propelled Zionist Union above all other parties into a head-to-head clash with Likud over the premiership, and, for the first time in years, turned it into a potential governing alternative to Likud.

Yet it wasn’t enough. Zionist Union made gains, but lost the election. Despite revulsion (within Likud as well) toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite his socioeconomic failure, despite criticism of his behavior and the argument over how dirty his hands were, despite the ongoing tie in the polls and alternative leadership presented to voters, nearly a million people put the piece of paper marked Likud into the ballot box – 100,000 more than in the 2013 election, in which Likud ran together with Yisrael Beiteinu.

Likud, which ran alone in this election, won 30 seats and received the same level of support, 23.4%, as before. Zionist Union received just 165,000 seats more than Labor and Hatnuah did combined in 2013, with its support rising from 16.4% to 18.7%.

Analysis of the results reveals how decisively the merger between Isaac Herzog’s Labor and Livni’s Hatnuah failed to penetrate the heart of the Israeli public. Even more than before, Labor became more associated with the wealthy, Ashkenazim, secular Jews and being cut off from the people, losing votes in the outlying geographical areas.

The phenomenon of Israelis voting by socioeconomic status is well known historically, but this time the phenomenon intensified. The established classes overwhelmingly voted for the left; the rest flocked to the right. Deemed a tired and outmoded party, Likud conquered the middle class, brought in new voters and drove voter turnout higher. The Israel of 2015 is more tribal, more partisan and more Likud-oriented.

2. Where did Likud lose?

One of the best tests of an election is the geographical test. The Central Bureau of Statistics divides Israel into 10 socioeconomic clusters, and the results here are clear: Likud won in only three of the 21 communities comprising the three wealthiest clusters – traditional Likud supporter Givat Shmuel, Mevasseret Zion in the Judean Hills, and Alfei Menashe, located in the West Bank. Zionist Union won all the others.

The Zionist Union did best in Tel Aviv, garnering 89,000 votes – 30,000 more compared to 2013 – and defeating Likud by more than 42,000 votes. In Haifa, Zionist Union turned a 5,000-vote deficit to Likud in 2013 into a 7,000-vote advantage this time. It outpolled Likud by a wide margin in several other members of the top three clusters, though mainly small communities – in part due to the weakening of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

Zionist Union managed a draw, or an insignificant advantage, over Likud in the poorest socioeconomic clusters – especially in ultra-Orthodox, Arab and Bedouin communities, where the big winners were either the Haredi parties or the Joint List. However, Likud thumped Zionist Union in the three middle-class clusters: Zionist Union won only five of the 56 communities in these clusters.

3. Where would Yacimovich have succeeded?

Likud actually extended its lead over Zionist Union in 35 of the middle clusters (compared to 2013), meaning Shelly Yacimovich did better with the middle- and lower-middle-class than Herzog. Yacimovich did better by 20,000 votes cumulatively among the bottom seven rungs, while Herzog and Livni did better by 63,000. If one compares by percentage of the vote, the gap in Yacimovich’s favor widens.

Zionist Union did better in the election for the 20th Knesset in Ramat Gan, Haifa, Herzliya, Kfar Sava, Rishon Letzion, Ramat Hasharon, Ra’anana, Hod Hasharon, Petah Tikva, Jerusalem and Modi’in.

The most prominent communities in which Zionist Union fared more poorly this time were Sderot, Ashdod, Lod, Bat Yam, Kiryat Gat, Upper Nazareth, Ramle, Bnei Brak and Ofakim, as well as the Arab towns of Baka al-Garbiyeh, Bir al-Maksur and Jaljulya. The vote deficit compared to Likud widened significantly in Ramle, Be’er Sheva, Tiberias, Ashkelon, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Gat, Dimona, Or Yehuda, Eilat, Ma’aleh Adumim, Beit She’an, Kiryat Malakhi, Afula, Netanya and Sderot. In Be’er Sheva, Zionist Union gained a mere 300 votes, while Likud spiked by 4,000.

4. They left their homes – and voted Likud

Another interesting phenomenon was the increase in the voter turnout rate. Here, too, Likud’s accomplishment is palpable. Out of the 73 communities where one of the two major parties won by 1,000 or more votes, Likud took 52. When ordering these communities by increase of the voter turnout rate, Likud took all of the first 42 on the list. The first community that Zionist Union won was number 43, Nes Tziona.

Election analysis reveals it was not only on social media that the public’s perception of Labor became whiter, richer, more arrogant and Tel Avivian. The results crown Herzog and Livni as leaders of the “white tribe” (the derogatory term for the Ashkenazim who live in affluent north Tel Aviv).

You can also see it when looking at the communities Yair Lapid dominated in the previous election. For example, Lapid won 21% of the Tel Aviv vote in 2013, but finished fourth in 2015 behind Zionist Union, Likud and Meretz. Most of the 170,000 votes Lapid lost went to Zionist Union, but Zionist Union in turn lost the votes that Labor had previously won in the periphery.

This data leads to the conclusion that the Herzog-Livni merger only worked among established Israelis and hurt its performance among the weaker socioeconomic classes. Livni and Herzog, who both live in north Tel Aviv, together with their advisers and the organizations that worked toward regime change, failed to wage a campaign that would galvanize all of Israel. They basically influenced the class of people from where they come.