Poll: Lapid Up, Kahlon Down, No Change at the Top

Netanyahu still choice for PM, but poor marks on economy give Herzog opening.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Lapid in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2014.
Lapid in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Yesh Atid has overcome its weak start in the election campaign and is now polling 12 Knesset seats, while Moshe Kahlon’s new Kulanu party is showing signs of stalling, according to an Haaretz opinion poll released Tuesday.

Yesh Atid chairman and former finance minister Yair Lapid, whose party was initially expected to crash at the ballot box on March 17, has come out swinging, with a sharp focus on the man he served until recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kahlon, however, who seemed to be the hope and promise of the 2015 election, is now on a downward slide, according to the poll, conducted by Haaretz Dialog, supervised by Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University.

In the early polls, before Kahlon’s party even had a name, it was forecast to take between 11 and 13 seats. It is now down to eight or nine, according to Tuesday’s poll.

The explanation for the switch seems simple: While Lapid is waging an aggressive campaign with frequent media appearances driving his message home, no matter how far it might be from reality, Kahlon is silent, his press conferences for presenting his candidates lackluster. Today he is to present an interesting addition to his roster, which should focus media attention: Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant.

Tuesday’s poll shows no real change in the showings of other parties compared to the last poll three weeks ago. Yisrael Beiteinu, burdened with a major bribery investigation, continues to decline to the point where now, with six Knesset seats, it stands only two seats above the electoral threshold of four.

The polls see both ultra-Orthodox Sephardi parties – MK Aryeh Deri’s Shas and MK Eli Yishai’s Ha’am Itanu – as making it into the Knesset, both apparently bolstered by recent media attention.

Meanwhile, Likud and the joint Labor-Hatnuah roster continue neck and neck. Minus the standard deviation in the sample, the latest poll predicts they will each garner 21 or 22 seats (although Labor-Hatnuah gained two seats over the last poll, while Likud lost one).

When it comes to the identity of the next prime minister, respondents gave the title once again to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in most categories. Although the majority of the public seems tired of Netanyahu and ready for a change, he is still perceived as an experienced leader and the most suitable as prime minister – except in the economic sphere, where he and Zionist Camp head Isaac Herzog are almost tied, according to the polls.

That is the reason Labor is doing its best to move the campaign’s focus to socioeconomic issues, while Netanyahu is trying to do the opposite. Netanyahu showed as much in his speech on Monday presenting Likud’s Knesset roster, where his subjects were Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS, without a word about the cost of living, housing and the hopelessness that one-third of the population is said to feel.

The question that must be asked is, given the major gap that the poll showed between the public’s perception of Netanyahu as premier material over Herzog, why don’t their parties’ predicted representation in the next Knesset show a similar gap? Why doesn’t Likud attract many more Knesset seats than Labor-Hatnuah, according to the poll?

The answer is apparently that although most people do not want Netanyahu as prime minister (which was also the case in the Haaretz poll three weeks ago, and in other polls), those same people do not see Herzog, at least not now, as an alternative for that office. Herzog’s numbers are improving in terms of people’s perception of him as a possible premier, but he has a long way to go before breaking even with Netanyahu in that regard.

In the category of the public’s perception of who is a clean politician, there are no big surprises. Deri and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are at the bottom, with Kahlon and Herzog at the top. But the answer respondents gave to this question could suffer from political bias. Even if people think their candidate is corrupt, they might still give him or her high marks for integrity so as not to hurt his or her chances in such a sensitive political time.

One thing that should clearly worry the ruling party is that although the two center-right slates, Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu, are weakening, votes are not flowing from them to Likud, which would seemingly be their natural destination. Likud leaders should be wondering: Has their brand reached a ceiling of 22 to 23 seats, and therefore stands to reap no benefit from possible fluctuations in the center-right bloc?

Yesterday’s survey also checked the extent of respondents’ satisfaction with their choice at the ballot box almost two years ago. United Torah Judaism took the lead in positive answers – 89 percent of its voters saying they were satisfied. After UTJ came, in order, Hadash, Habayit Hayehudi and Hatnuah (no doubt because its leader, Livni, made the move to create a joint roster, thus breathing new life into the party), Labor and Meretz. In all of those parties, there were more satisfied voters than disappointed ones. As for all the other parties, the opposite was true.

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