Netanyahu's Likud Worried Supporters Won’t Bother to Vote in Israeli Election

Netanyahu was counting on his COVID-19 vaccination strategy to lead the March 23 election campaign. But the message did not sink in; it even raised hackles and is going to be shelved

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Likud campaign election night party at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds
Likud campaign election night party at the Tel Aviv Exhibition GroundsCredit: Ofer Vaknin
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Likud is planning to hold dozens of rallies in the coming days to encourage increased voter turnout in Likud strongholds, in light of concern that supporters will stay home on Election Day.

The latest opinion polls, especially the party’s own internal polls, have left campaign headquarters deeply worried about the March 23 election. Boasts about obtaining 40 Knesset seats have been forgotten. In closed conversations, people involved in the campaign admit that even 30 seats will be a good outcome.

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The party believed that the COVID vaccination rollout would highlight all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s advantages: an international leader with vision, connections and strategy who resolved the coronavirus crisis before any other country. Last week Netanyahu tried a new message – only he can bring in another 36 million vaccine doses and establish a vaccine factory here. But according to Likud polling, this message did not sink in; it has raised hackles and is going to be shelved. This week for example, the campaign made robocalls to potential Likud voters, and rather than mention the vaccine, it focused on the four normalization agreements with Arab countries.

The campaign leaders’ main concern is voters’ indifference toward the election, according to polls and reports from the field. There is a sense that people are fed up with politics, that the election will change nothing and that, in any case, there will be a fifth election. Historically in Likud strongholds, voter turnout is lower than that of the center-left. In the last election, Netanyahu’s major effort to increase voter turnout in those areas was partially successful and part of the reason that the party garnered 36 Knesset seats.

In the current election campaign no efforts have been invested in Zoom sessions. Rather preparations are underway for a blitz of grass-roots events in enclosed venues precisely two weeks before Election Day. Events are scheduled for 40 places throughout the country for Likud members only, who will be invited based on their loyalty to Netanyahu at the local level.

Meanwhile, the campaign is trying to create a demon that will spur Likud voters to go to the polls on Election Day with a feeling of urgency. Netanyahu’s success at beating his political rivals time after time has resulted, according to Likud polling, in a “cry wolf” effect – the voters believe Netanyahu is invincible in an election.

The slogan “Lapid or Netanyahu” has so far not borne fruit. This is a one-sided campaign. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid learned his lesson from Tzipi Livni, Isaac Herzog and Benny Gantz, who were flattered to go head-to-head against Netanyahu, which brought out Likud voters at the time. Likud intends to rev up spins against Lapid in the hope that he will enter a sparring match with Netanyahu and energize the Likud base.

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