Up until a few days ago, Israel was busy for a few weeks with the political races of municipal candidates, races from which we can learn about national trends, but only to an extent. Yes, Nir Barkat's victory in Jerusalem did do something to weaken- or at least to weaken the projected power of- Aryeh Deri and Avigdor Lieberman, but other than that the local races were markedly local. In many of the main cities the candidates weren’t even associated with national parties.
The polls we added that were taken in October don’t show much change in the political map. In fact, their importance stems from the fact that they ratify the results of previous polls – proving them not to be a coincidence or a blimp but rather a trend.
They include, first of all, a further weakening of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid’s party (the big winner of the 2013 election). While it has 19 mandates in the current Knesset, the polls now project that Yesh Atid would decline to around 10 mandates if the elections were held today. From being the second largest party, it is now on the verge of being the fifth largest, following Likud, Labor, Habait Hayehudi and Mertetz. Yesh Atid is running neck to neck with Shas, so in fact it would come out number five or six if elections were held today, shattering Yair Lapid’s dream of becoming the next Israeli Prime Minister. In fact, in the latest Dialogue-Haaretz survey, barely 5% of Israelis said they believe Lapid to be the best candidate for the PM office, and 51% say he is a disappointment (for comparison: 6% say Netanyahu is a disappointment, 4% say Tzipi Livni is a disappointment).
The decline of Yesh Atid is old news, as is the rise of Zionist-Orthodox Habait Hayehudi and leftist Meretz. We are adding Meretz to our table this month as it appears to have become one of Israel’s many midsize parties: five parties with more than 10 but less than 20 mandates. In fact, the political landscape today is shaping in ways that are quite remarkable. Likud is the only large party, and right now it is hard to envision any coalition that could be formed without it. On the other hand, what we see since the election is the relative decline of the Israeli political center. Yesh Atid, Hatnua and Kadima have a cumulative 27 mandates in the current Knesset, with which they can represent the center. They got a cumulative 16, 17 and 17 in the last three polls.
And while the center is shrinking, the “right” and the “left” are getting stronger. From 43 in the current Knesset, the right rises to 48 and 47 in the two polls from October – mainly due to the strengthening of the Jewish Home (Habait Hayehudi). The left bloc, wich has 27 mandates in the Knesset, got 33 and 34 in the October polls. But if you click for the full table you will notice that the surge in left votes began shortly after Election Day and what we see now is merely a more consistent performance by the left-wing parties.
This trend can become even more pronounced and interesting if the Knesset passes, as it plans to do, the law that will raise the electoral threshold for parties, essentially forcing the Arab parties to merge, or Arab voters to consider parties that aren’t markedly “Arab”. While the leaders of Meretz staunchly oppose the raising of the threshold, some political pundits believe that Meretz can actually benefit from such move – by absorbing the more moderate Arab voters that will want to make sure their votes aren’t wasted on parties that can’t pass the threshold.
Of course, polling Israel in October is really not much more than testing the waters before the political season begins. The Labor party will be holding its primaries soon – and we don’t know yet if someone else will emerge as the party’s leader following the vote. We also don’t know about the type of decisions the coalition will have to pass as a result of negotiations with the Palestinians – but we do know that this issue is the most divisive one within the coalition. Recent exchanges of political barbs between Livni’s party and Naftali Bennet’s Habait Hayehudi show that the potential for clashes over Palestinian policies is real, and that by the end of the season, when winter is over, the coalition might look different from how it looks now.