Analysis

Gantz Stuns in Election Polls, and Balfour Street May Be Gearing Up for New Benjamin

Pollsters went crazy for Gantz after his debut speech - If he makes no mistakes, the center-left bloc may make a strategic choice and rally behind the former military chief of staff

FILE PHOTO: A part of a campaign billboard of Benny Gantz, Tel Aviv.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Twenty-four hours after the maiden political speech given by Benny Gantz, public opinion polls went crazy. According to four polls published yesterday (on Walla, the Israel Television News Company, Channel 13 and Kan public television), Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael party spiked to an average of 22-23 Knesset seats, an addition of 8-9 seats in comparison to the day before his appearance at Tel Aviv’s Convention Center.

Regarding suitability as prime minister, Gantz equaled Netanyahu in some of the polls, something we haven’t seen for years and which we thought we wouldn’t see again in our lifetimes. In a scenario in which Lapid swallows his pride and agrees to merge Yesh Atid with Hosen L’Yisrael, a united centrist party could defeat Likud by 5 seats (35 to 30).

Ostensibly, a heretofore sleepy election campaign was revitalized by a retired chief-of-staff who may break Netanyahu’s hold on power. Anyone who thought that the initial responses in Likud were exaggerated and alarmist has now understood their meaning. At the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street, where they look at in-depth surveys on a daily basis, the potential for damage was discerned in advance.

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As expected, the growth of Hosen L’Yisrael came almost entirely at the expense of Yesh Atid (now projected to win 10-11 seats, as in the current Knesset) and Labor (projected to win 5-6 seats, closer than ever to being wiped out). The rightist list lining up alongside Gantz is not deterring this electorate. The supreme and foremost goal is to replace Netanyahu.

If the trend continues and Gantz makes no mistakes down the road (it’s best for him to keep quiet – silence pays), voters on the left-center may vote strategically on April 9: They may move en masse to Gantz, giving him their votes in order to turn him into a rival that can threaten Netanyahu. The slogan will be: it’s Benny or Bibi, it’s Benjamin A or Benjamin B.

In this situation, Hosen L’Yisrael will become a vacuum pump, sucking in voters. The main question which will determine the election results is this: Can Gantz and Ya’alon, perhaps with Gaby Ashkenazi and/or Orli Levi-Abekasis, manage to attract five seats to their camp from the right-wing bloc?

Another question the answer to which may determine the fate of the campaign is whether one or two of the parties belonging to Netanyahu’s bloc, such as Kulanu, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas or Habayit Hayehudi, will not pass the threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote, or 4 Knesset seats. In that case, Netanyahu will not be able to form a 61-seat majority when appearing before the president, requesting that he be charged with forming a government.

Here one should state a cautionary note: Right after Gantz’s blitz, with all attention focused on him and with maximal media coverage talking only about his speech, some survey bias is natural. One has to wait a week or two in order to see if the polls were a launching pad or the glass ceiling. We’ve been there before: In 1999, the now-defunct Hamerkaz (Center) Party, headed by generals Yitzhak Mordechai and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and by civilians Dan Meridor and Roni Milo, started the campaign with polls giving them 22 seats, only to end up with 6 Knesset seats.