Analysis of Voting in Israel's Last Election

Israel's Secular Voters Buoyed Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi at Polls, Study Finds

Naftali Bennett's right-wing party came fourth in Israel's January election with more than 9 percent of the vote, mainly thanks to secular Israelis - but it lost support at its base in the religious-Zionist community.

The right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party did well in the recent election thanks to support from secular voters, while it lost among religious-Zionist voters, says Prof. Asher Cohen of Bar-Ilan University's political science department.

Cohen is due to discuss his findings Thursday night at the party’s convention for secular voters. Naftali Bennett and other Habayit Hayehudi leaders hope the meeting will symbolize the party’s widening support.

“Bennett’s personality overshadowed the party slate,” Cohen says, offering a reason for why Habayit Hayehudi charmed secular voters.

“The campaign focused on Naftali Bennett … [who] didn't talk about Jewish law and observance, but simply spoke Jewish. Not religious, but cultural. Not Orthodox, but Zionist. He was an Israeli. Secular voters said to themselves: ‘I can see a guy like that doing reserve duty with me. If he’s got a skullcap on his head, that’s okay.’”

Habayit Hayehudi came in fourth in the January election with more than 9 percent of the vote and 12 Knesset seats.

“Habayit Hayehudi has at least two seats that clearly came from the secular kibbutzim, immigrants from the former Soviet Union and secular communities such as Lehavim,” says Cohen. “Almost everywhere in Israel except in national-religious communities, Habayit Hayehudi doubled its strength. Religious Zionists did not return to the party. They can't be the reason for the party's jump in the last election.”

In the study, Cohen gathered data from the 100 largest polling places, most of them on kibbutzim, where support for the center-left bloc was about 90 percent in the 2009 election. In the recent election, support for Bennett’s party here more than doubled to 350 votes.

For example, in polling places where most voters came from the former Soviet Union, Habayit Hayehudi received one-quarter to one-third more votes in the recent election. At these polling places, Yisrael Beiteinu won more than 50 percent of the vote in 2009.

In Israel’s wealthiest towns — Savyon, Kfar Shmaryahu, Omer and Har Adar — Habayit Hayehudi tripled its strength to 733 votes in the recent election from 222 in 2009.

Meanwhile, at the 55 largest polling places in religious Zionist areas — including Hebron, Itamar and Yitzhar — support for Habayit Hayehudi decreased. According to Cohen, typical voters of National Union, another right-wing party, decided not to support Bennett’s slate. Instead, they voted for Otzma Leyisrael, a party even further to the right that did not make it into the Knesset.

“At all the polling places where National Union received more than 40 percent of the vote in the previous election, support for Habayit Hayehudi decreased by more than 10 percent in the recent election," says Cohen. "In these communities, Otzma Leyisrael received more than 22 percent.”

In other religious-Zionist areas, support for Habayit Hayehudi increased, but the rise was modest; there the party received 10 to 15 percent of the vote.

Increased support for Habayit Hayehudi also was a factor in the country's outskirts, home to both religious and secular voters. In Beit She’an, for example, Habayit Hayehudi doubled its strength to 1,250 votes in 2013 from 540 in 2009. In Sderot, the party nearly doubled its showing to 15.5 percent from 8 percent.

Alon Ron