This week marked two anniversaries for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Sunday marked his 10th year in office as Prime Minister and Thursday marked a year since the most recent Knesset election that most polls and pundits said he would lose.
Although Netanyahu is celebrating both of these achievements, he is a man who looks ahead, and has his eyes on two key dates in 2019. Netanyahu has been in office for so long that you can remove the three-plus-years from his first term in the nineties and he is still ahead of third place Yitzchak Shamir. However, if Netanyahu is still sitting in the Prime Minister’s Chair on July 4, 2019, he will tie David Ben-Gurion as the longest serving Prime Minister in Israeli history, a record that would help define his legacy as his generation’s Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister born after the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Of course if you decide, as some do, not to count the days that Ben-Gurion served as Prime Minister before the first Knesset, Netanyahu will pass Israel’s first Prime Minister in late 2018. I’d rather focus on the future United States Independence Day, since Ben-Gurion did act as Prime Minister from May 14, 1948 – March 10, 1949, even though no one elected him.
The second date is the next scheduled election on Tuesday November 5, 2019. The chances the Knesset completes the current term are very slim since almost every Knesset term is cut short. However, the possibility is worth examining since his narrow 61-seat coalition is running more smoothly than expected. To pass Ben-Gurion Netanyahu must find a way to bring this current term to at least the beginning of 2019. Netanyahu can pass “the old man” even if he calls for an early election in January 2019 and loses, thanks to a 90-day-minimum election period and an approximately two-month coalition-building process.
A huge key for Netanyahu to achieve this feat is passing a two-year-budget for 2017 and 2018. The struggle of passing a State Budget is viewed by most as the biggest test for any government and it becomes even tougher with a narrow 61-59 margin. There are few opportunities where defeating the government can lead to replacing it. The new rules passed by Liberman & Lapid in the last government, when they were in the coalition, made it much more difficult for a government to be toppled by a no-confidence motion vote.
Netanyahu’s ability to achieve either 2019 date is dependent on the state of his current government. This weekend’s Comprehensive Panels poll measures the public opinion on the popularity of the parties, ministers, and asks an array of useful questions to gather data on the state of his current government.
To get a good picture of where things stand on a party-to-party basis let’s measure this poll against the average of the previous ten polls and the election results of a year ago and view the poll’s additional questions in that context.
Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats in the election, the 10PA (10-poll-average) is 26.9 and Likud received 26 in this poll. Netanyahu is graded 4.6 by the public on a 1-10 scale for his job as Prime Minister. He receives even lower marks as Foreign Minister (4.1), Communications Minister (3.9), Economy Minister (3.9) and Regional Cooperation Minister (3.8). In head-to-head matchups for Prime Minister Netanyahu defeats both Lapid and Bennett by 11 points each. He defeats Ashkenazi by 14 and Liberman by 26 points. Netanyahu does the best against Opposition Leader Herzog with a whopping 31 point margin of victory. A majority of voters are against Lapid joining a national unity government and an even larger majority reject the Zionist Union entering a national unity government. Likud ranks 5th of the 10 lists in terms of voter regret with 17%. 6% wished they voted for Bayit Yehudi, 6% for Yesh Atid and 5% for Yisrael Beitenu. 21% of 2015 Likud voters feel Netanyahu holding on to the Communications portfolio and his policies are a danger for democracy and freedom of expression. There are more Israelis who believe there is an alternative to Netanyahu, but that is an opinion that is heavily weighted by center and left voters. 53% of right voters overall and 70% of Likud voters do not see an alternative to Netanyahu.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is the highest ranked Likud Minister and is ranked second among all ministers with an impressive 5.8 showing. Despite the impressive score Katz ranks fifth, both among the general public and Likud voters, in the question of who should replace Netanyahu as Likud leader when he eventually retires. Yaalon (5.4) is the second most popular Likud minister on the list and tied for fourth most poular overall. The Defense Minister ties for second in the general public as Netanyahu’s replacement but slips to third among Likud voters. Homeland Security Minister Erdan is the third most popular Likud minister and ties for sixth among all ministers. The #2 on the 2015 Likud list is fourth among the five options among the general public but among Likud voters Erdan jumps to second place and is within the margin of error of defeating Likud’s #2 in the 2009 & 2013 Elections, Gideon Saar. Saar has a more comfortable lead with the general public. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is another candidate that does better among the general public (second) over Likud voters (fourth). Culture & Sports Minister Regev is ranked fourth among the Likud ministers. In one of the more fascinating questions we learn that Regev is viewed by Sephardic Jews and Likud voters as advancing Sephardi interests while Ashkenazi Jews and the general public think that she is harming Sephardi interests. The lowest ranked Likud Minister, a long-time Netanyahu loyalist, is Yuval Steinitz, who finishes among the bottom five of all 19 ministers.
Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid dropped from 19 seats to 11 in last year’s election. Their 10PA is 18.0 and they received 21 in the latest poll. This is Yesh Atid’s second straight poll with a 21-seat showing, and there is momentum since the party has not dipped under 15 seats in any poll conducted since November. Yesh Atid has tied or placed higher than the Zionist Union in nine of the eleven polls conducted over the last year. Lapid is five seats behind Netanyahu in this poll, and he ties with Bennett as the best candidate to go head-to-head with Netanyahu. Over a third of Yesh Atid’s growth is from Kulanu voters, and about a fifth comes from the Zionist Union. Yesh Atid also takes votes from Meretz, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu. Only Meretz and UTJ voters regretted their vote less than Yesh Atid voters. Lapid is doing a good job sensing the pulse of voters as the general public doesn’t want Yesh Atid to join the government. The only bad news for Lapid is the popularity of UTJ leader Litzman as Health Minister who replaced Lapid’s current #2 Yael German and Litzman’s refusal to shake his hand or even acknowledge his presence.
Zionist Union captured 24 seats last March. Their 10PA is 17.1, and they are trending down, receiving just 15 seats in this poll. If it wasn’t bad enough that Opposition Leader Herzog fares worst among potential candidates in a head-to-head matchup with Netanyahu with a 31 point deficit, only Kulanu and Joint List voters regret their decision from last year more than the Zionist Union voters. Herzog’s 3.5 rating on a 1-10 scale as Opposition Leader is worse than all of the 19 ministers of Netanyahu’s government and about two-thirds of Israelis want him to stay out of government. It seems that Meretz, the only party that nominated Herzog in Phase 2, is the only opposition party that still seems to take Herzog’s leadership of the opposition seriously.
Bayit Yehudi fell from 12 seats to 8 in the last election. In this poll Bayit Yehudi climb back to 12. This is pretty consistent with their 11.5 10PA that has been slowly trending upwards. Education Minister Naftali Bennett is tied for fourth among all ministers with a 5.4 record with the general public and his key ally, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, outscores him for third place with a 5.7 showing. In another encouraging finding for the Bayit Yehudi leader, Bennett ties Lapid as the best candidate against Netanyahu in a head-to-head matchup 40% Netanyahu to 29% Bennett. Bennett putting up better numbers than Ashkenazi, Liberman and Herzog, among general public voters is something that baffled many analysts I spoke with over the weekend and might indicate the popularity of his educational reforms. Tekuma Minister Uri Ariel is ranked as third to the bottom with a 4.2 score. Bayit Yehudi finished seventh among the ten lists in terms of voter regret.
The Joint List won 13 seats a year ago. They have a 12.8 10PA and received 12 seats in the latest poll. Their bad news is the four parties that make up the list will use the finding, that their voters regret their vote more than any other party except for Kulanu, to fuel in-fighting. Their good news is that they remain pretty consistent with a high of 14 and a low of 12.
Yisrael Beitenu fell from 13 seats before the election to just six seats after it. Analysts have had a tough time understanding Liberman’s long-term strategy after his bizarre decision to leave the Foreign Ministry on the table, after nominating Netanyahu in Phase 2, that left him in the opposition. Yisrael Beitenu has an 8.3 10PA and receives nine seats in the latest poll. Although his party is slowly recovering Liberman loses to Netanyahu 49% to 23% in a head-to-head matchup, and he is losing 5% of his previous voters to Yesh Atid. Liberman has run on a joint list in two of his six elections, and it is possible he will look to do so again next time. Yisrael Beitenu ranked fourth in voter regret.
UTJ receives seven seats in the latest poll. The joint Agudat Yisrael-Degel HaTorah list lost their seventh seat in the previous election. UTJ has a 6.6 10PA and has received either six or seven seats in each of the last 11 polls. UTJ ranked 10 of 10 on voter regret. UTJ leader and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman ranked as the top minister in Israel with a 6.4 score among the general public.
Shas receives six seats in the latest poll, a drop of a seat from the seven they received in the election. Shas has a 6.8 10PA and is trending down with six six-seat showings in the last nine polls. Shas Religious Services Minister David Azoulay ranks 18th out of the 19 ministers at 4.2. Shas Leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri ranks dead last with 4.1 among the general public. Shas finished six of ten on voter regret.
Kulanu receives six seats in the latest poll. Kahlon’s party received ten seats in the elections and has a 6.5 10PA, failing to make double digits in every poll conducted since last year’s election. Of the ten lists Kulanu voters regret their vote the most. Many of those voters now prefer Lapid. Finance Minister Kahlon ties for sixth among all ministers, Avi Gabai is ninth, and Yoav Galant is 16th.
Meretz recaptures the sixth seat in the latest poll that they had lost in the election. Meretz’s 10PA is 5.5 and they rank ninth out of the ten lists in party regret.
Netanyahu, who was unopposed, has already secured his nomination as Likud’s candidate for Prime Minister in the next election. The previous Knesset term was the second shortest in history. After a year his four coalition partners do not have a good reason to topple the government. His senior coalition partner, Kulanu, has dropped in polls and is now ranked 9th of the 10 parties in 10PA. Bennett needs more experience as a minister and security cabinet member before he can compete as a Prime Minister candidate on the right. Both Shas and UTJ enjoy the budgets they secured in the coalition agreement and the leverage they enjoy in a narrow coalition. There is no external threat to the coalition as the opposition remains fragmented. Lapid may have narrowed the gap in the polls but in the current Knesset there is a large 19-seat difference between Likud and Yesh Atid, and the only opposition party that is cooperating with Lapid is Liberman.
What we learn from this poll as Netanyahu celebrates two important anniversaries in 2016 is that the chances Netanyahu makes it to both key 2019 dates seem higher than they did last year.