Floating Voters Account for 28 Seats

A day before the elections for the 17th Knesset, the political system is suffering from profound uncertainty: Defying all logic, the number of floating voters - people who have not yet decided which party to vote for - rose sharply this week, to 28 seats, from 18 seats last week.

Nevertheless, the overall balance of power has not changed. According to this week's Haaretz-Channel 10 News survey, Kadima, headed by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, will win 36 seats, unchanged from last week. Labor, headed by Amir Peretz, has gained strength, to 18 seats, but Likud, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, remains stuck at 14 seats.

Despite the media circus surrounding Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party, the survey actually found a sharp drop in his support this week, to seven seats, down from nine last week. In contrast, National Union-National Religious Party surged, from nine seats to 12.

There was little change in support for other parties. The poll gave Shas 11 seats, United Torah Judaism six, Meretz six, Hadash two, Balad two, and the United Arab List-Movement for Arab Renewal four. The merger between the UAL and Ahmed Tibi's party is liable to make this list the largest Arab faction in the next Knesset.

Once again, the polls showed the Pensioners' List on the verge of entering the Knesset, with two seats; almost all of its support has come from former Labor voters. However, all the other small parties - the Green Party, Uzi Dayan's Tafnit, Green Leaf, Shinui and Hetz - failed to cross the electoral threshold.

If these results prove accurate, Olmert will have no trouble setting up a stable coalition that supports his unilateral withdrawal plan. Such a coalition would center around Kadima and Labor (54 seats); Meretz's six seats would bring the total up to 60. The rightist-religious bloc, in contrast, has only 50 seats, according to the poll, while the leftist bloc - consisting of Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties - has a mere 32 seats. Thus neither Netanyahu nor Peretz will be in any position to form a government.

However, it is impossible to overlook the differences in the results obtained by the various surveys published yesterday or due to be published today. These differences stem from the large number of floating votes: Every polling company uses a different method to distribute these votes among the parties. Therefore, one cannot rule out the possibility that the actual election results will be different - perhaps even very different - from those predicted by the polls.

Kadima will be very happy if the polls prove accurate. In recent weeks, the party's strength has fallen sharply, and its leaders believe that 35 to 36 seats is the minimum needed to form a stable government in which Kadima controls most of the major portfolios.

Labor, in contrast, was disappointed: Peretz believes with all his heart that the party will win at least 20 seats, and he does not understand why none of the polls reflect the warmth with which he has been greeted across the country.

The survey was conducted by the Dialog company, under the supervision of Pro. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University's statistics department. It included a fairly broad sample of 800 people, which produces a margin of error of less than 3 percent. However, because it was conducted between 3 and 6:30 P.M. - unlike previous polls, which ended at about 8:30 P.M. - it did not reach people who get home only after 6:30 P.M., and this might have caused some distortion of the results.