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Polls and Numbers: The Story of Israel's 2013 Election

Naturally, the elections for the 19th Knesset will all come down to the numbers on January 23, the day after the poll, but there have been quite a few numbers to revel in along the way.

Tamir Cohen
Tamir Cohen
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Tamir Cohen
Tamir Cohen

Some tales are best told by the numbers. Naturally, the elections for the 19th Knesset will all come down to the numbers on January 23, the day after the polls close, but there have been quite a few numbers to revel in along the way. More than any other election campaign in Israel, opinion polls have been published almost daily, with some 60 polls published between October 18 and January 18, three days after the early election was officially declared, and the last day polls were allowed to be published.

Analyzing the different polls commissioned by major media outlets and carried out by the most distinguished pollsters can provide a glimpse of the political plotting that took place during the past three months.

October 15, 2012: Netanyahu calls the elections

Just over five months after the elections were called - and then canceled - during that dramatic night when Shaul Mofaz's Kadima joined the coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu announced once again: election, and this time for real. In the first 10 days, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu received 42 seats in the polls – before they converged to a joint ticket, the same numer of MKs they had in the 18th Knesset. Not too much can be learned from these polls, except how swiftly things can change in Israeli politics. In these first polls the National Union received slightly more than an average of seven seats. Yes, these were the days before Bennett-mania swept Israel. Mofaz enjoyed six seats during those days before Tzipi Livni re-entered politics, and Labor was staring at 21 seats. That was just the beginning.

October 25, 2012 : Behold the Biberman: the birth of Likud Beiteinu

A rule of thumb in Israeli politics is that one plus one often equals slightly less than two. Netanyahu and Lieberman believed it would be different this time, but in their case, one and one equals roughly one and a half. In the polls before they announced their joint ticket, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu received between 42 and 45 seats. In the polls that followed the announcement, the unified list received 37-38 seats, which didn't prevent Lieberman from predicting that the list would receive 40 seats. For the record, he also predicted that they would win 45 seats. Another significant change in those days was Aryeh Deri's return to Shas, which helped the party gain around three seats. And how did the Netanyahu-Leiberman move affect the other parties? Labor gained some two and a half seats, Habayit Hayehudi gained one seat, Chaim Amsellem's Am Shalem and Arye Eldad and Michael Ben Ari's Otzmah Leyisrael approached the two percent threshold needed to enter the Knesset. Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party was the only self-proclaimed center party at the time, enjoyed stability at around 12 projected seats.

November 6, 2012: Bennett, Naftali Bennett

Two political events grabbed the attention of the Israeli media that Tuesday. The more obvious was the presidential elections in the U.S and the primaries for the leadership of Habayit Hayehudi. It seemed that results of the former election would have a stronger impact on the outcome of the Israeli elections more than the latter, but it turned out the opposite was true. While Obama's victory hardly seemed to affect Israeli voters, Bennett's victory positioned his party with almost nine seats – and that too, before the merge with the National Union. While most parties enjoy a boost after their primaries, Bennett's meteoric rise came only later, mostly for two reasons: Tzipi Livni's declaration that she would be running independently with a new party, Hatnuah, and the escalation of the situation on Israel's southern border.

A worker replaces a banner depicting Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with another one in Tel Aviv January 17, 2013.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters, January 23, 2013.
A woman carries a cutout of Tzipi Livni.
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A worker replaces a banner depicting Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with another one in Tel Aviv January 17, 2013. Credit: Reuters
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PM Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters, January 23, 2013.Credit: AFP
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A woman carries a cutout of Tzipi Livni.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Israeli election 2013

November 14, 2012: Pillar of Defense

Naturally, no polls were conducted during the first days of the military operation in Gaza, and the first was published only eight days later, on November 22. The polls up to the end of November continued to show a downward trend for Netanyahu's joint list, which was then projected to receive 36.5 seats. For several fleeting moments it seemed that Defense Minister Ehud Barak might pass the two percent threshold, but the most surprising data regarded Amsellem's Am Shalem party, which was steadily receiving 3 seats – with or without any connection to the war.

December 6, 2012: presentation of the candidate lists and Peretz's defection

One minute before 22:00, the last opportunity to submit party lists, representatives of Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah entered the hall that seated the Central Elections Committee. The new party was responsible for the day's drama: Amir Peretz, who only a week earlier was elected third in Labor's primaries, decided to join Livni's party, where he would also be third on the ticket. The polls in the following days reflected the public's reaction to the lists of candidates submitted by the different parties.

Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu was stable at 37 seats, and the fighting moved more to the center left bloc. Labor dipped to 17.5 seats, Lapid to 8.5 seats, and Livni boasted her record numbers – 11 seats. Livni's rise probably damaged Meretz who fell to 3.5 after several weeks that it approached 5 seats. These were also the days of Bennett's rise, when he reached 11 projected seats following the merge with the National Union and the emotional call for "everybody" to vote for Habayit Hayehudi – including the Tel Aviv secular population.

December 20-27, 2012: Bennett's refusal and Lieberman's indictment

These two events again called attention to the infighting within the right-wing bloc, defined by Bennett as "shooting in the armored personnel carrier." After Bennett's interview with Nissim Mishal, during which he declared that he would request to refrain from evacuating settlements, Likud's campaign pointed at Bennett's supporters' sensitive points: the army, loyalty, and the flag. The negative campaign and Bennett's apology surprisingly came back like a boomerang to haunt Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, and strengthen Bennett. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu dipped, for the first time under 35 seats, and after the Attorney General's decision to indict Lieberman, the number further fell to 34. Habayit Hayehudi passed the 14 seat mark for the first time. The center-left bloc still couldn't exploit the situation and continued its inner battle for the same 36-38 seats.

Jaunuary 8, 2013: television campaigns and the last polls

An election campaign can resemble a championship soccer league. Your team may be impressive in September but the question is where you stand when push comes to shove come May, or in our case, the eve of January 22. In the days following the start of the massive TV campaign began, Netanyahu reached his lowest number in two polls – both in Haaretz and Yedioth Aharonoth, on the last day polls are allowed to be published – with 32 projected seats. All of this despite Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu's seemingly endless airtime.

In all polls conducted during the last ten days, Netanyahu averaged slightly above 34 seats, not a number that would make Arthur Finkelstein proud. Other parties reaching the finishing line with a poor showing are Labor with 16.5, Shas with 11, Hatnuah with 7, and Am Shalem which almost completely disappears. The winners of the last few days are Habayit Hayehudi, averaging 13.5, Kadima with 2.5 and, most impressively, Meretz with an average of almost 6 seats.

An Israeli woman riding her bicycle past election campaign posters for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Israeli Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich, Jan. 18, 2013.Credit: AFP

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