Poll: Netanyahu Still Israelis' Top Pick for Premier, but Sa’ar-Kahlon Team Strikes Chord

Netanyahu remains the unchallenged leader with 38% support, but Khalon's party could regain momentum if he teams up with Sa'ar.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-minister Gideon Sa'ar at Likud headquarters in 2013.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-minister Gideon Sa'ar at Likud headquarters in 2013. Credit: Nir Kafri
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Though Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced Wednesday that he will be “taking a break” from politics after the holidays, it seems the public wants him to stay in the game. And people would be even happier if he opted to team up with popular former Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, a poll commissioned by Haaretz found.

The poll also found that 5 percent of the public would like Sa’ar to be the next prime minister. Given that he has never even officially announced he wants the job, that’s a surprisingly high figure: It puts him in the same league as Kahlon, Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni.

Nevertheless, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains the unchallenged leader: Despite much unhappiness over the outcome of this summer’s war in Gaza and the bitter fight over the 2015 budget, 38 percent of the public sees him as the best choice for premier. That’s more than five times the proportion favoring his nearest rival, opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog: Only 7 percent of the public wants him as prime minister.

Finance Minister and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is at the bottom of the list, with only 4 percent viewing him as their preferred premier.

Sa’ar is very popular within his Likud party. Of the respondents who said they were considering voting Likud in the next election, 15 percent said the chances of their doing so had fallen in the wake of Sa’ar’s departure. That number may be inflated as the poll was taken on Thursday, just a day after he made his announcement. Nevertheless, it’s a significant portion of Likud’s potential electorate.

But one of the poll’s most interesting findings concerned the possibility that Kahlon would form his own party and run in the next elections. Fully 16 percent of respondents said they would consider voting for such a party, which doesn’t yet exist and whose other putative members remain unknown.

Yet the number jumped even higher when respondents were asked about the possibility of Sa’ar teaming up with Kahlon. Of the respondents who initially said they would not consider voting for a Kahlon party, 12 percent said they would consider doing so if Sa’ar were part of it.

The possibility of a Kahlon-Sa’ar combo fired imaginations within Likud. In his farewell speech, Sa’ar, like Kahlon, emphasized socioeconomic concerns. And it now turns out that the two met the day before Sa’ar made his announcement.

“They’re good friends and meet regularly,” one of Sa’ar’s aides said.

But a close friend of Sa’ar’s said Thursday that if Sa’ar returned to politics, “he’ll do so within the ruling party and not some pie-in-the-sky party.” Another close associate also rejected the possibility of Sa’ar joining Kahlon, saying, “Sa’ar would never agree to be Kahlon’s No. 2.”

Nevertheless, the poll shows that the two together are worth more than either one alone. Kahlon’s base of support comes from center-right voters in several parties, including Likud, Yesh Atid and Shas. But Sa’ar would bring another significant chunk of Likud voters without driving away the centrists.

The survey was conducted by the Dialog firm among 498 respondents, under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs. It has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Moshe Kahlon.Credit: Nir Kafri

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