Elections 2009 / Pollsters: High Voter Turnout in Jewish Sector Will Benefit Right

Because Arab sector turnout expected to be low, high Jewish turnout would harm chances of Arab parties.

A high voter turnout in the Jewish sector would benefit the right and hurt the left, regardless of how floating voters ultimately break, pollsters agree. This is because turnout in the Arab sector is expected to be low, so a high Jewish turnout would increase the chances of one of the Arab parties - most likely Balad - failing to get enough votes to enter the Knesset and thereby depriving the leftist bloc of those seats.

In the last election, Balad received 72,000 votes (and three seats), while the minimum needed to enter the Knesset was 63,000 (two seats). If, as expected, turnout in the Arab sector drops by about 10 percent this time around, while turnout in the Jewish sector is high, Balad could easily fall below the minimum, which is defined as two seats' worth of votes - i.e., the total number of valid votes divided by 60.

Last election, turnout in the Arab sector was 56 percent, and this year, most experts expect it to fall to around 50 percent. "There's a very palpable feeling of despair," said MK Dov Khenin of the Arab-Jewish Hadash Party. "People see the rise of [Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman and lose their faith in their ability to do anything."

Lieberman's flagship issue has been a demand that Arab citizens take an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.

Overall turnout in the last election was 63.5 percent, and pollsters are divided about what it is likely to be this time around - though all stressed that there is no real way to predict; their estimates are mainly gut feelings.

Rafi Smith of Smith Consulting and Research said that his latest polls have shown a marked rise in the number of people who say they are certain they will vote. "It's up to 80 percent," he noted. He therefore predicted that turnout would be higher this year than it was in 2006.

In contrast, Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel-Aviv University, who is Haaretz's pollster, predicted a low turnout. "There's no excitement," he said. "Public interest [in the election] is very low."

And Prof. Avraham Diskin, who will oversee the Central Elections Committee's exit poll on Election Day, said he expects turnout in the Jewish sector to remain roughly constant. "The disgust has been around for years now, but in the past, people voted anyway," he said.

According to both Smith and Fuchs, the one person who will definitely benefit from higher turnout is Lieberman. Smith explained that many floating voters list Yisrael Beiteinu as one the parties they are considering. Fuchs added that many floating voters end up jumping on the bandwagon, and this time around, the bandwagon is Lieberman.

"This is a phenomenon that is difficult to explain," he said. "We began with 9 or 10 seats for Lieberman. Today, even 20 does not sound impossible."