A Suspended Election Campaign

Latest election poll results show Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu merger was a bad idea.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

This blog took a premature break last Thursday as Operation Pillar of Defense gathered steam and the elections took a back seat. Most parties have suspended campaigning as missiles rain down over the South and occasionally come close to Tel-Aviv.

Polls are due to open in 64 days and the 2009 elections were held only three weeks after Operation Cast Lead so any discussion now of postponing elections seems premature, but some politicians are already talking about just that possibility. No decision can be expected for a few more days until we see whether there is a chance of a ceasefire taking hold or IDF troops are tramping through the alley-ways of Gaza.

The main obstacle to the current electoral timetable is the deadline for the party lists, early next month. Likud and Labor both determine their lists by party-wide primaries due to take place next week. If the bombardment continues, they may have to put the primaries off. That isn't a reason though to change the election-date, just extend the deadline.

Even if the operation drags on, setting a new election date will not be a simple procedure, with the government busy on other matters. It is hard to imagine the operation lasting for another two months and if the poll published today in Haaretz, Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner Avigdor Lieberman would be happy holding the elections as close as possible to the operation's conclusion.

The poll was conducted by the Omnat Group under the supervision of Professor Kamil Fuchs of Tel-Aviv University among 520 respondents and has a 4.4 percent margin of error. It was conducted yesterday (Sunday) on the fifth day of the Gaza offensive and focused on the public's views regarding the operation as well as their voting intentions. You can read my colleague, Haaretz's political analyst Yossi Verter's take on the poll here.

Here are the results:

Likud-Yisrael Beitenu 41Labor 21
Shas 12
Yesh Atid 9
Habayit Hayehudi-National Union 8
United Torah Judaism 5
United Arab List-Ta'al 5
Meretz 4
Balad 4
Kadima 3
Am Shalem 3
Hadash 3
Atzmaut 2
Otzma Le'Yisrael 0

A few comments in addition to Verter's excellent analysis:

1. Despite the public's support for the Gaza operation and Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership, Likud Beitenu is still polling at less than the two parties joint strength in the current Knesset (42 seats). The 41 seats in today's poll is much better than the 36 they received in the Panels Politics poll I wrote about here last week but if this is what they get at the height of a popular military campaign, then the link-up between the two right-wing parties still seems like a bad idea, especially for Netanyahu's Likud.

2. Ehud Barak is experiencing a rare period of popularity now as the responsible grown-up leading the military campaign, 52 percent of the public are satisfied with his job-performance. That doesn't seem to have translated yet into support for his nascent party Atzmaut (Independence) which is standing at two Knesset seats. In other words, brushing past the electoral threshold. If the operation ends soon and successfully, he will take credit for this and we could yet see him in the next Knesset but he isn't there yet.

3. We have barely heard from Shelly Yacimovich in recent days and the fact that she has no security experience and as of yet, no senior officer on her list (though Col. (ret.) Omer Bar-Lev is doing well in recent days as a television pundit and will probably do even better in the Labor Party primaries) would have been expected to work against her. Despite this, Labor under Yacimovich is holding on in the polls and still seems on track to restoring itself as the main opposition party at the expense of Kadima which is barely crossing the electoral threshold with three MKs.

4. The main party which seems to be suffering from the patriotic mood is left-wing Meretz which in this poll is at four MKs, slightly better than the three they currently have but not as good as they had been hoping.

5. This is the third week of polling in which Am Shalem, the new party of Shas rebel Chaim Amsellem, is receiving three seats. There is a trend here and calling him this election's "surprise" is already a cliché. Pundits tend to put Am Shalem in the right-wing-religious column when comparing the size of the rival blocs but Amsellem could go either way. A strong showing by him could cause major problems for Netanyahu as Shas would try very hard to veto his presence in any coalition with them.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, casts his vote, followed by his wife Sara, during the Likud party primary elections in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012Credit: AP

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