Israel Election Results: Netanyahu's Likud Captured Soft-right Votes From Gantz's Party

Netanyahu’s party scored gains by attracting new urban voters, while the far-right Otzma Yehudit party suffered major losses among West Bank settlers

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Likud supporters rally on Election Day in Tel Aviv.
Likud supporters rally on Election Day in Tel Aviv, Mar. 2, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

A preliminary analysis of the results from Monday’s Knesset election shows that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party increased its strength for the most part by attracting “soft-right” voters in the major cities, and not due to the higher voter turnout. The shift came among voters who in the past had voted for Kulanu and Gesher and among prior supporters of Kahol Lavan who voted Likud this time.

The Likud campaign sought to boost turnout in economically disadvantaged communities, but the effort was only marginally successful. In Bat Yam and Tiberias, for example, voter turnout increased by less than 1 percent. In Acre, it was up by just 1.2 percent, while in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Ata and Eilat, it rose by 1.5 percent.

The data analyzed include all of the votes cast at regular polling stations, but not the 340,000 so-called double envelope ballots cast away from local precincts by soldiers, police officers, prisoners, hospital patients and diplomats abroad. The tally also does not include ballots cast at specially designated locations by voters quarantined due to possible coronavirus exposure and several hundred other ballots that the Central Elections Committee was double-checking. These additional ballots could change the final composition of the Knesset but they are not tallied based on the voters’ actual place of residence.

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The group of soft-right voters targeted by the Likud campaign included lower to middle-class young families in the major cities who are seeking to improve their standard of living but are having difficulty making ends meet. Although Netanyahu worked over time to attract these voters, the Likud campaign ran into a brick wall with them that only began to crack in the final week before the March 2 election.

Likud described these soft-right voters as people who respect Netanyahu’s accomplishments of the issues of defense and diplomacy but who were turned off by his economic platform and his personal style of leadership. The party tried to woo them with promises made by Nir Barkat, whom Netanyahu designated as his future finance minister, and by attempts to tarnish the image of Benny Gantz, the Kahol Lavan leader.

Likud-sponsored focus groups revealed that if Kahol Lavan were to join forces politically with the largely Arab Joint List slate, the step would be a red line for these soft-right voters, who would then prefer to vote Likud. Until the last minute of the campaign, Netanyahu highlighted his claim that Gantz would form a government with the Joint List. Using methods that some might find questionable, the prime minister also raised doubts regarding Gantz’s leadership capabilities, including footage of a stammering Kahol Lavan leader and at the end of the campaign, a recording of Gantz’s political strategist Yisrael Bachar disparaging him.

Gantz’s support in the opinion polls on the question of his fitness to serve as prime minister slumped and the actual results on Election Day revealed that the Likud campaign had worked.

Without the “double envelope” ballots, Likud received 175,000 more votes this time than in September. The effect was apparent in the party’s growing strength in the major Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion, where there are large numbers of young families with a relatively high standard of living but who are seeking higher incomes.

In September, Likud got 46,000 votes there, but was bested by Kahol Lavan’s 50,000 votes. In this week’s election by contrast, Likud received 54,000 votes. Kahol Lavan’s support slumped slightly to 49,000 votes, but that includes about 4,500 voters who had previously supported the Labor Party. In Kfar Sava, another Tel Aviv suburban stronghold, Kahol Lavan’s support dropped by about 1,000 votes, although it still came out on top. But Likud attracted 2,000 more votes than it had in September while support for the Labor Party fell by 3,000 votes.

In Tel Aviv, where turnout slipped by 0.4 percent, Likud picked up 5,000 more votes. For its part, Kahol Lavan did attract 9,000 more votes than in September, but it was heavily at the expense of the Labor Party, which lost the support of more than 20,000 voters. Support for Yisrael Beiteinu dropped by 3,000 votes in Tel Aviv while Yamina and Otzma Yehudit each lost about 1,500 votes in this round of elections there.

An analysis of the results by precinct in Tel Aviv shows that Likud’s strength grew in the southeast part of the city, where the party has a long-standing base of support, but where many young families have also moved in recent years.

The settlement vote

This week’s election saw increased support for Likud among voters in West Bank settlements, along with the nearly total collapse of the far-right Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, which failed to attract the minimum 3.25 percent of the vote for Knesset representation. The party, which in September garnered 1.88 percent of the vote around the country, received only about 0.42 percent this time around – about 17,000 votes all told.

The relatively politically extreme West Bank settlements had been considered Otzma Yehudit’s base of support, but the shift to Likud was quite clear there.

Campaign posters in the settlement of Betar Ilit on Election Day, Sept. 17, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In Bat Ayin in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, for example, the party went from 211 votes in September (35%) to just 48 (7%) on Monday, while Likud’s tally rose from 107 votes (18%) in September to 242 (39%). In Kiryat Arba, the number of Likud votes went from 1,087 (32%) to 1,474 (45%), and Otzma Yehudit’s support dropped from 778 (23%) to 223 (7%). In the settlement of Yitzhar, the party’s support went from 58 percent of the vote in September to 23.3 percent on Monday. At the same time, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Likud all picked up more votes in Yitzhar.

Support for Otzma Yehudit also dropped in the ultra-Orthodox communities of Modi’in Ilit and Betar Ilit, the largest settlements in the West Bank, where most voters cast their ballots for United Torah Judaism. UTJ received 80 percent of the vote in Modi’in Ilit and 64 percent in Betar Ilit. In the third-largest settlement, Ma’aleh Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Likud boosted its support by 10 percent, while Yamina’s tally slipped from 14 percent in September to 11 percent on Monday. Support for Kahol Lavan was unchanged at about 11 percent.

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