Ha'aretz poll puts right-wing-religious bloc firmly in driving seat
By Yossi Verter
Ha'aretz - 29 Nov: Exactly two months before the Knesset elections, the right-wing and religious bloc of parties is gaining strength. A survey conducted on Wednesday for Ha'aretz by the Dialog firm shows the right-wing-religious bloc of Likud, Shas, National Union, United Torah Judaism, and National Religious Party winning a total of 64 Knesset seats.
The Ha'aretz survey is based on a representative sample of the Israeli
electorate that included 683 respondents. The survey was directed by Professor Camil Fuchs of the Tel Aviv University Statistics faculty. Dialog is not conducting polls for any party or candidate in the election campaign.
According to the polling data, last week's election of Amram Mitzna as
chairman of the Labor Party has not significantly boosted public support for the left. Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties (including Hadash) are expected to garner 37 mandates.
On the other hand, Mitzna's platform of withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and transferring resources from settlements to education and social welfare resonates well with the Israeli public. Some 47 percent of the respondents said they would support a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and 54 percent said they would favor the evacuation of settlements if the money invested over the Green Line would be spent on domestic projects.
The parties that are considered more centrist (Shinui, Yisrael b'Aliyah and One Nation) are expected to win 19 seats according to the survey, with Shinui alone winning 13 mandates.
Good news, bad news for Mitzna
There is some good news among the dismal voting trends forecast for Amram Mitzna in the Ha'aretz survey. The cross-section of the general public sampled in the survey is sympathetic to his call for bidding farewell to 35 years of Israeli control of the Gaza Strip and for shifting resources from settlements in the territories to education and social welfare projects.
The bad news, however, requires no commentary: Likud 41 Knesset seats, Labor 20. Mitzna has not made any major blunders since being elected Labor Party chairman ten days ago, but he has also not made any significant strides toward winning the battle for public opinion. Labor is showing a gain of one or two mandates compared to previous surveys, but these have come at the expense of Meretz.
The bottom line is that even when counting the centrist Shinui party, the survey shows the left (Labor, Meretz, the "Arab" parties) winning 50 seats in the 16th Knesset, while the right-wing bloc (Likud, ultra-Orthodox parties, National Union and Yisrael b'Aliyah) garners 68 mandates. The figures also indicate that in the unlikely chance that the Likud, Labor and Shinui forge a secular coalition, they would boast a majority of 74 Knesset members.
Of course, there are still two months until the Jan. 28 elections, plenty of time for the candidates to stumble and the balance of voter support to shift. But according to the current poll data, it seems hard to imagine that Mitzna will be the one invited by President Katsav to form the next government.
The positive news from Mitzna's perspective is 47 percent of the respondents support Mitzna's plan to withdraw Israeli settlements and troops from Gaza. (Some 60 percent of Likud voters oppose this plan.) When asked whether they would support the evacuation of settlements if this entailed a transfer of funds to education, infrastructure and social welfare, the level of support grew by an additional 10 percent.
This will be the essence of Mitzna's campaign: separation, separation, separation [from the Palestinians] and the transfer of resources invested in settlements to domestic projects: welfare budgets, a computer for every child, new roads - like during the Rabin period of 1992-1995.
Mitzna: Sharon had his chance to do something
"These figures definitely match my assessment of reality," Mitzna says. "When it comes to parties, there has of course been a rightward swing, but politically - the public expresses support for my program. And that's precisely what we'll be trying to do in the coming months: to find the common denominator between these two trends."
The prospect of a national unity government, which figures to become a central campaign issue, is favored by about half of the electorate, according to the Ha'aretz poll. Among Likud and Shinui voters, over 60 percent advocate a national unity government, compared to 46 percent of Labor and Meretz supporters.
It's interesting that Likud voters, whose party would appear to be able to easily form a coalition without Labor, are the more fervent supporters of a unity government. There is a reason for this: Likud voters are nervous about how their leader would perform as the head of a narrow, right-wing coalition. They prefer to see Fuad, Peres and Mitzna on board. They loath the ultra-Orthodox and their demands.
Labor and Meretz voters, on the other hand, are more sure of going it alone. But this picture could change, of course.
Mitzna is less adamant today in his opposition to a unity government. "If there is an agreement on separation, then we'll have something to talk about," he says. Perhaps this is just a tactical position. When asked whether he thinks Sharon would be more prepared to make peace during a second term, he says: "I really doubt it. I am very skeptical and don't believe what he says. He has never expressed any real readiness for this. He is always creating the impression that he is is about to do something, but he has no plan, no goal, no real alternative for coping with the difficult reality we face. He had 20 months. He had an opportunity, but he didn't do anything. In the upcoming elections, we'll see exactly want he and his government did."
Shinui conquers the center
One amazing finding in the survey is that Shinui has inherited the place of the dismantled Center Party. It becomes the third largest party, far ahead of Shas and Meretz. Shinui's supporters are classic centrists: they favor a national unity government, are split on the question of whether to conduct negotiations with Arafat (35 percent in favor, 26 percent opposed) and overwhelmingly support the evacuation of settlements from the Gaza Strip (about 80 percent). What unites them is their hatred of the ultra-Orthodox.
Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz are the favorites of Likud voters - and of the general public - when asked to choose a candidate for these two portfolios in the next government. Shimon Peres and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer receive lower ratings as candidates for their former jobs at the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, respectively - even among the Labor voters polled in the survey.
Retroactive support for the Likud
One interesting phenomenon in the survey data is that the percentage of the sample claiming to have voted Likud in 1999 is much higher than the level of support the Likud actually won in the last Knesset elections. There are three possible explanations for this: the Likud's current popularity has led people to "forget" who they really supported in the last elections; a disproportionately high proportion of Likud voters responded to the survey questions; and citizens who voted for Sharon in the special elections for prime minister in 2001 mistakenly identified this as a vote for the Likud Knesset list.