The media loves “what if” polls a lot more than polls that measure public opinion of the current parties. It is understandable because they probably sell a lot more papers, increase the traffic on their sites, and boost television and radio ratings that way. The rumor mill will always focus on the “what if” because it is a whole lot sexier than talking about the same players in the current configuration over and over again.
Sometimes theses scenario polls can be used to promote various individuals’ political stock and increase their asking price in the pick-a-new-MK Knesset market. Other times they can be used to try to shift public opinion to the direction that the chances of Netanyahu going home have suddenly increased overnight.
The problem is that these scenario polls are almost always inaccurate, either because the number of egos in one ticket would be impossible, or because the personalities have not yet entered the political stage and therefore have not been properly vetted by the public and their peers. Another issue is that the polls might provide encouraging results to win an election in Phase 1, yet provide no path forward for the nomination of forming a government in Phase 2 or enough votes to approve a coalition government in Phase 3. You can ask Tzipi Livni, who defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2009 Knesset Elections, how that Phase 1 victory worked out for her.
The latest scenario polls are measuring the performance of a list including any combination of former Netanyhau #2 Gidon Saar, former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, former IDF COS Gabi Ashkenazi and/or Benny Gantz, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, renegade Yisrael Beitenu MK Orly Levy, and – the latest in private polling – former Environment Minister Avi Gabai. Most variations of the list come out even or ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud.
The latest political developments have altered public opinion, and it will take some time before we can assess what the long term implications are. Snap polls are useful, but they are not always indicative of the future.
Over the last seven years the polling companies have conducted hundreds of scenario polls, public and private, which indicated public opinion could be manipulated in a particular way to finally defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu if a particular formula was used.
The most common scenario poll in December 2014, a month before the deadline of submitting the lists to the Central Election Committee for the March 2015 elections, was a Lapid-Kahlon joint ticket. TRI polled Lapid-Kahlon at 21 to Likud’s 20, Panels polled Lapid-Kahlon at 22 to Likud’s 20, and Dialog had Lapid-Kahlon at 24 to Likud’s 21. The grapevine, at the time, said talks of that joint list ended when Kahlon decided he wasn’t interested in being Lapid’s #2 and went off to negotiate a joint ticket with Likud, which Kahlon would ultimately also reject to go off on his own.
Other popular December 2014 scenario polls included previous combinations of what would become the Zionist Union. A Panels poll predicted a Labor-Livni-Mofaz-Trachtenberg ticket would win 35 seats compared to Likud’s 21. A Dialog poll of a Labor-Livni-Mofaz joint ticket would win 22 seats to Likud’s 20. Herzog decided to go with Livni and Trachtenberg but passed on Mofaz. The Zionist Union went into the election with 21 seats and received 24 seats, an increase of just three.
Leading up to the 2013 election there was a wide range of scenario polls. Among the most popular was an August 2011 Smith Poll in which a new Social Economic Party led by protest leaders Itzick Shmueli and Stav Shapir was predicted to come out of nowhere to win 20 seats to Likud’s 22. Labor’s leader at the time, Shelly Yacimovich, was able to persuade Shmueli to join Labor. Shapir weighed an offer from Lapid before also going with Yacimovich. An October 2012 Dialog poll gave 25 seats to a new “Super Kadima” led by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni and Lapid to Likud’s 24. There was also a January 2012 Dahaf Poll with Lapid leading Kadima to 29 seats compared to the Likud’s 27. Various meetings with a combination of Olmert, Livni, Lapid, Yacimovich, Mofaz and Zahava Gal-On led nowhere. Supposedly Livni rejected an offer from Olmert to be his #2 and started her own party. Olmert responded with endorsing Kadima. Kadima split into pieces and dropped from being the largest party in Knesset with 28 seats to 2.
Scenarios polling on new parties have shown mixed results. For most of 2010-2012 Lapid enjoyed polling numbers in the early 20s and high teens, and Yesh Atid eventually finished with 19 seats in the 2013 election. For most of 2012 to 2014 a new Kahlon party was polling from 13-19 seats. Kulanu would win ten seats in 2015. A new Deri party aligned with the left was predicted to win double digits but never came to fruition.
I do believe that a joint list of Saar, Yaalon, Ashkenazi , Gantz, Huldai, Kahlon, Levy and Gabai would win the next election. I just don’t see that many egos fitting into one list. I’m also not sure the number of portfolios that would need to be distributed internally to create such a list would leave enough room to build a coalition government with additional partners. The only thing in common with the group is that most of them would prefer to see someone other than Netanyahu, preferably themselves, as Prime Minister. The above group has a wide spectrum of opinions on the issues of the day.
If Olmert, Livni, Mofaz, Yacimovich and Lapid, who had more in common with each other than the current group of scenario candidates, couldn’t join together why should we believe that this current group that is more divided in their opinions will be able to?
Former MK Haim Ramon, the architect of Kadima, tried for years to create a centrist super-party and was smart enough to stay out of the failed Center Party of 1999. Itzik Mordechai, who was Netanyahu’s first #2 in the Likud, created a party with former IDF COS Amnon Shahak; Dan Meridor, another disgruntled liberal Likud Minister who viewed himself as Prime Minister material; and former Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo.
Does a scenario of a former Likud #2, former COS, an additional former Likud leading Minister, and a big-city-mayor sound familiar? The initial polls looked promising and it looked like Mordechai might be Israel’s next Prime Minister. On Election Day they won just six seats.
Ramon believed the key to creating a real super-party is a sitting Prime Minister. When Prime Minister Sharon formed Kadima in 2005 he had support from many Likud ministers, top Labor figures, an MK from Yisrael Beitenu, a former Yisrael B’Aliyah MK, a former Shas MK, and unofficial help from a renegade Shinui MK.
Kadima lasted longer than the previous attempts at creating a new list because it had all shades of the spectrum and politicians at all levels of the ladder with a Prime Minister in office. The opposition is a difficult place to be for a party that is based on personality and minister appointments over ideology and parliamentary work. Kadima fell apart when Livni, who had lost the previous primary, decided to cause serious issues for Mofaz, the person who defeated her, that eventually led to a split in the party. After the Livni split other Kadima MKs started to seek refuge elsewhere and the party collapsed as many MKs returned to their previous parties.
It is much easier to get a lot of egos into a room when you are the Prime Minister and everyone in the room is willing to help you remain there in exchange for a piece of the pie. It is easier to rationalize not running for #1 when you are working with the current #1. It is a much more difficult task to ask a Prime Minister candidate to endorse a different challenger in return for the same job they used to have when they were working with the incumbent #1.
So don’t get too excited the next time a scenario poll comes out. Chances are the people who are being grouped with each other will not agree to run on the same list, and the new personalities on the joint list will lose some appeal after they are properly vetted by their other opponents and the press.
The real key towards determining the next Prime Minister is the proven Knesset Jeremy formula of Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3.
Likud 26.7, Yesh Atid 19.9, Zionist Union 13.1, Joint List 12.9, Bayit Yehudi 11.3