Haaretz-Dialog Poll / Likud, Labor, Shinui Voters Back Sharon

Barring dramatic developments, Sharon has good chance of being next premier as leader of the largest party.

Barring any dramatic developments in the next few months, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has a good chance of being the next premier as the leader of the largest party, according to the Haaretz Dialog poll conducted this week.

Supervised by Professor Camil Fuchs, the poll examined personal status of Sharon and that of his party, Kadima, according to Israeli voters.

Haaretz reported this week that if elections were held today, Kadima would receive 39 Knesset seats, compared to 22 for the Labor Party headed by Amir Peretz and 12 to the Likud, which has yet to elect a new leader.

The transitions from one party to another have barely changed in recent weeks. Some 60 percent of Shinui's voters have moved to Kadima while 10 percent have gone to Labor. Some 62 percent of the Likud's voters also have moved to Kadima, as have 42 percent of Labor's voters. Kadima also gained considerable support among first-time voters around the age of 18.

Sharon maintains a huge lead over all his rivals when it comes to his suitability to be prime minister - 43 percent compared to 15 percent for Peretz, 13.5 percent for Netanyahu, and single-digit percentages for Mofaz and Shalom. In a previous poll, Sharon was deemed most suitable to be premier by 47 percent, while Peretz received 18.5 percent followed by Netanyahu with 10 percent.

In a breakdown between Kadima's voters and those supporting other parties, Sharon's supporters give him absolute credit, almost in dictatorial dimensions - 95 percent of them see him as the most suitable man for the job, while only 70 percent of Labor's voters see Peretz as such. In the Likud, only 61 percent believe Netanyahu is most suited to lead the country.

A similar tendency is reflected in four questions about the traits of the three leading candidates. The poll asked people to rate Sharon, Peretz and Netanyahu according to their credibility, judgment, courage and integrity on a scale of 1 to 5. Sharon leads in courage (4.06 compared to 3 for Peretz and 2.72 for Netanyahu), credibility (2.92 compared to 2.72 for Peretz and 2.10 for Netanyahu), and judgement (3.31 compared to 2.60 for Peretz and 2.47 for Netanyahu). Only in one trait - integrity - does Sharon descend to second place - he is rated 2.65 compared to 2.80 for Peretz and 2.15 for Netanyahu.

The public has not forgotten the affairs in which Sharon is embroiled, although apparently it views them as completely irrelevant to the upcoming elections, just as they were irrelevant three years ago. Sharon's character has undergone a total rehabilitation as far as his supporters are concerned. Kadima's voters rate him first in integrity (3.62 compared to 2.55 for Peretz and 2.10 for Netanyahu). In this context, the inexperienced Peretz, who has never been tested in government decision-making, receives higher grades than Netanyahu, who served as prime minister and finance minister.

The sweeping admiration for Sharon and lesser admiration for Peretz directly affect the public's prefered make-up of the coalition. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said they would like to see only Labor and Kadima cooperate in the next coalition, compared to 20 percent who prefer a coalition of Kadima, the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox, and 22 percent who dream of a broad unity coalition consisting of Kadima, Labor and Likud.

Labor closed its list of Knesset candidates yesterday, and as expected, it does not include former prime minister Ehud Barak, whose tense relations with Peretz kept him off the list.

The poll examined the position of voters in general, and Labor supporters in particular, toward Barak. Asked whether Peretz should do everything to make Barak part of Labor's leadership in the next elections, 37 percent said "I'm sure he shouldn't, 17 percent said "I think not," 15 percent said "I think he should," and 11 percent said "I'm certain he should."

These figures explain why Peretz did not go out of his way to add Barak to his inner circle or agree to his demands. Peretz operates according to polls, and these findings are no surprise to him.