Election Campaigns: Parties Are Not Really Fighting for Voters

This is either the calm before the election storm, or the calm before post-election power plays to secure a place in the coalition.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 8, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 8, 2015. Credit: Alex Kolomoisky
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

It has been a strange and interesting week for the political polls, and by direct implication the same is true of the election campaign. The main news is that there is no news. The polls are all very similar, and very stable. The differences are almost always in the range of margins of error: Either the pollsters are all working with great precision, or they are all captive to the same methodology and, therefore, fall into the same traps. But we will only know that on election night, March 17. Until then, the polls exercise substantial influence – on the public, commentators and publicists, and those active within the political system.

The present feeling is that the election is not creating any drama. Nothing has changed. The absence of momentum is channeling the campaigns into a very specific direction. In the first weeks of the campaign, there was a sense that the identity of the person forming the next government was not yet known, and that a real battle for power was being waged. That led to responsible conduct in the political camps. There is a written, nonbelligerency pact between Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, and a similar one that didn’t even have to be written between Zionist Camp and Meretz.

However, from the moment the rise of Zionist Camp and the decline of Likud were checked, the entire arena changed direction. The frontal clashes between right and left became internal ones. Meretz realized that it is fighting for its Knesset life and began to attack mainly Zionist Camp coleaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. And Habayit Hayehudi went back to attacking Likud from the rear.

We can reasonably assume that soon, if its projected loss of seats continues in the wake of the Eli Ohana farce [when Naftali Bennett had to drop plans to reserve his party's number 10 spot for the ex-soccer star], it will also embark on a battle against the ultra-Orthodox nationalist alliance of Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel's Yahad. On the other hand, it has shelved a planned campaign against Herzog.

Avigdor Lieberman and his people in Yisrael Beiteinu are also trying to outflank Netanyahu on the right – for example, by criticizing his conduct regarding Hezbollah or Turkey. This is the same Lieberman who signaled left at the start of the election campaign. This past week, though, he explained that under no circumstances would he join a government that is not a right-wing government or a national unity government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s what happens when the electoral battle does not take place in the shadow of an open battle over the identity of the prime minister.

Shas under Aryeh Deri's leadership has undergone a similar process: from a declaration that its votes, and even its recommendation to the president, are not in the pocket of any candidate, to an explanation that the party intends to serve as a kind of "social lubricator" in the next Netanyahu government.

Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), meanwhile, continue to attack both sides in the name of the “people,” the “general public” and the “center.” Of the two, the gifted presenter Lapid is leading a far more effective campaign, and is entitled to draw encouragement from recent polls. On the other hand, his path to another government headed by Netanyahu, this time with the ultra-Orthodox on board, is far less assured than ex-Likud minister Kahlon’s.

There are five weeks left until the election. Quite a lot of time. Can this fixed image – of a kind of intra-bloc, zero-sum game – change? At the moment, with the exception of Zionist Camp, it seems no party is seriously trying to get voters to cross the road. Unless they succeed with this Sisyphean task, the impression is that most of the action will be postponed until after the vote – and the coalitional game of thrones.

But there are another three options for electoral dramas that are not reflected in the current polls. One is an incorrect analysis of the intentions of many voters to participate – and mainly to refrain from participating – in that democratic celebration in March. The second is a failure of one or more of the small parties to achieve the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent, although in the polls they are managing to sail above it. These two possibilities are both in the pollsters' realm, as opposed to the third option: a development, to Netanyahu’s detriment, in the legal-criminal sphere.

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