The following is a guest blog by Menachem Lazar, the pollster for Panels Politics. Menachem is the man in charge of PP's Netanyahu Approval Index – an index that we now proudly (and gratefully) translate and include in our J Meter.
The drama that unfolded before viewers of the televised results from the Likud primary at the end of November was a heart-breaking one, as pundits – not few in number – responded as though the voters had "stolen" the party away from them.
To anyone that is even slightly familiar with the data though, the outcome wasn't at all surprising. In recent years, the Israeli public (with an emphasis of course on the Jewish population) has slowly but noticeably drifted rightwards in how it defines itself politically.
One of the ways in which this is evident is by asking an Israeli where he places himself on a spectrum ranging from very leftwing to very rightwing. The evidence from the primary presents a clear picture. If we focus on the clear right (those who define themselves as "rightwing"or "very rightwing") – then 37 percent of Jewish Israelis fall into this category, as opposed to just 9 percent (!) at the other end of the spectrum, who see themselves as clearly leftist ("leftwing" or "very leftwing"). If we further stretch the boundaries of what is considered rightwing, and add in those who consider themselves to be "centrist, but right-leaning", we get a majority of 59 percent of the Jewish Israeli population.
The growing and strengthening rightward trend among the Jewish Israeli population has necessarily had an influence on the voters of the various parties, in particular on the largest party – the Likud (according to the polls, it seems obvious that Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset today, has effectively disappeared off the map). The party's voters turned out in vast numbers for the primaries.
For several years now it has been evident that the profile of Likud voters is changing. The Likud voter of the 2013 elections is clearly more rightwing and more religious than the voter of the 2009 cycle, just four years ago. For example, in December 2008, 72 percent of Likud voters (according to polls) defined themselves as rightwing, whereas in polls conducted immediately before the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu union in October, 85 percent of voters defined themselves as such. Furthermore, the demographic profile of Likud voters is more rightwing than that of the Yisrael Beiteinu voter (before the two parties united).
It is only natural then that these characteristics would carry weight in the Likud primaries, leading to a situation in which the Likud list of candidates for the Knesset is patently rightwing. Such a list is not a fluke – it truly reflects the will of the voters, an example of democracy in action.
So where is all this headed? The truth is, it's still hard to know. So Israel is going through some kind of change, and changes are confusing. Hence, the rate of undecided voters now reaches more 30%, compared to the more "normal" rate of 25 percent.
In a short space of time, Israel has experienced several extremely significant events: Naftali Bennett has shaken up the old National Religious Party and given the national-religious community a suitable home that reflects its rightist worldview. The Likud, still the largest national religious party (both for its number of religious Knesset members and for the number of religious voters it attracted in 2009) is running jointly with a partner that is clearly "secular", while presenting a list for the next elections that is both rightwing and religious. Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni is returning to the political arena and could be the address for those moderate Likudniks that are yearning for a party of the likes of Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and Benny Begin (all three cast aside in the recent primary elections).
Yet the real significance of this rightward shift in the Israeli public has still to be seen. For many years, the party leaders who aspired to become prime minister directed themselves to the center in their bid to secure votes. Common wisdom dictated that this was largest cache of potential unaffiliated voters who could determine the final results of the elections. But now, in light of this clear rightwards shift, the battle for votes has moved to the heart of the rightwing camp itself. The battle is no longer between different political blocs, but within just one – how will the bloc's list be characterized or, alternatively, which will be the most influential party in the bloc (at the time of writing, it is the Likud).
Initial proof of this trend could be found in polls at the end of November, which showed the rightwing bloc strengthening, and even pulling in a total of 70 seats, although this is primarily via parties to the right of the Likud – the joint list of the Jewish Home headed by Naftali Bennett and Strong Israel headed by MKs Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben Ari. These two parties together have 15 seats, compared to Likud Beiteinu's 42.