Analysis |

For Israeli Parties, an Elusive Election Day Challenge to Decide Their Fate

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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A Likud election campaign billboard featuring Netanyahu, this month.
A Likud election campaign billboard featuring Netanyahu, this month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

1. Apart from the overall voter turnout, Tuesday’s election will depend entirely on which parties get their supporters to the polls. It’s a copy of the U.S. election in November: The battle lines are clearly drawn, the number of voters who are wavering between the main blocs is very small. Whoever gets the most voters to the polls will lead the race. According to the last surveys before the election, the results of which were published over the weekend, the number of undecided voters account for 14 Knesset seats.

But that figure is misleading. Some of the undecided voters are within one bloc – wavering between Meretz and the Labor Party on the left or among Religious Zionism, Likud and United Torah Judaism on the right. The number of genuinely undecided voters is small, worth about four Knesset seats. Most are right-wingers who are debating between Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and other parties. The two blocs are very close.

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2. Voter turnout is even more of a mystery than usual in this election. There are about 300,000 Israelis now in the country who would be traveling abroad if not for the coronavirus pandemic. I hope this won’t cost me another Likud video, but in last year’s election the ballots at polling stations for Israelis who were in isolation after returning from overseas showed a clear preference for center-right parties. On the other hand, the parties’ own polls suggest a high degree of voter apathy and a general feeling that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will keep his job in any event. There’s little motivation in either bloc to cast a vote. Low turnout affects poor areas more than well-off ones, and on that score Likud is expected to be hurt more.

The Likud campaign held back considerable funds for Election Day itself, especially for an enormous telephone bank that is expected to receive information from the polling stations on every person who has voted and to check it against the Elector mobile app in order to remind people who haven’t yet voted to get to the polls. Likud officials say the activity is worth about 100,000 votes – three Knesset seats. Time will tell.

3. Yair Lapid’s strategy for the final days of his Yesh Atid party campaign is built on getting out the vote: The thinking is to try to avoid a brush with Netanyahu so as not to incur the ire of Likud voters while at the same time sending the message that the center-left needs a party with at least 22 Knesset seats to lead the bloc. The rationale is that there are left-wing voters who will stay at home due to despair, who don’t believe that the bloc’s fragmented parties have the wherewithal to replace Netanyahu.

A big party gives them that hope, so Yesh Atid’s 11th-hour campaign strategy is based on enlarging the pie and keeping Meretz in the Knesset. In television interviews Saturday evening and a Sunday morning interview with the Ynet news website, Lapid claimed that “We are very close to ousting Netanyahu.” He said “We,” not “I.”

4. The most tragic figure of the election season’s home stretch is Gideon Sa’ar. On Sunday he swallowed Lapid’s spin on “the public debate” with Netanyahu and ran to ask to be included in a debate that did not happen. He posted a video in which he called on Bennet “to join a government of change.” In the absence of opinion polls in recent days as Election Day nears, it can only be assumed that Sa’ar’s momentum is slowing. He’s feeling the pressure, and people close to him say he’s short-tempered. He can’t find a trick that would raise his fortunes.

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