As much as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu alliance might want to make this election about security and diplomacy, the voters are in large part speaking a different language – that of domestic socioeconomic issues, according to The Times of Israel’s pre-election poll of likely voters.
Respondents were asked which of the following six issues is the most important issue facing the next government of Israel:
1. The Iranian threat
2. Deterioration of relations with the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza
3. Instability in countries of the region such as Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon
4. Economic issues, such as the cost of living and housing prices
6. Enlistment and integration into the workforce of the ultra-Orthodox
The results show that economic issues are at the front of voters’ minds, with a full 43% of likely voters choosing this as the most important issue facing the next government. This preference is driven by left-wing and centrist voters.
Next, voters chose concern over a deterioration of relations with the Palestinians, at 16%, driven by left-wing voters. Education is perceived by 13% of voters as the most important issue, driven in the center-right by Orthodox voters.
The Iranian threat, at 12%, is a right-wing issue entirely — the most important issue for 23% of right-wing voters, but for only 2% of left-wing voters. Instability in countries in the region comes in at 7%, driven by center-right voters.
Perhaps surprisingly, enlistment and integration of the ultra-Orthodox, at 4%, is driven in large part by Shas voters likely concerned by actions the government might take rather than hoping the government will take action.
Looking at each issue and how respondents vote reveals a challenge for Netanyahu and the Likud-Beytenu list.
Of the 12% of voters who chose the Iranian threat and 7% who chose instability in the region — both security issues — as the most important issues facing the next government, Likud-Beytenu swallows every other party, receiving 41% and 31% of the vote, respectively. Labor is largely irrelevant on these issues, receiving 6% of votes. However, of the 43% of voters who chose economic issues as the most important facing the next government, Likud-Beytenu and Labor are tied at receiving 16% of the vote.
The more the election focuses on security in its final two weeks, the better for Netanyahu and the stronger Likud-Beytenu will become. The more it focuses on economics, the better for Labor .
The Likud-Beytenu can choose to use the remaining days of the election and its advertising budget attempting to move the narrative of this campaign back to security issues. Or it can try to build a socioeconomic narrative that presents a vision or series of accomplishments on economic issues to win over voters. At the very least, the Likud-Beytenu would be wise to attack the Labor Party and other center-left parties on their economic plans in order to prevent further slipping in the polls. In recent days, indeed, playing defense on this issue, Netanyahu has been highlighting his government’s economic track record, backed by Likud advertising that hails “350,000 jobs created” under his administration and the lowest unemployment rates for years.
If the narrative of this campaign — the advertising and day-to-day media coverage — turns more and more to socioeconomic issues, watch for a potential surge for the Labor Party. Our poll indicates it can thrive on those issues.
This is the fifth in a series of nine articles that The Times of Israel is publishing this week on the basis of our pre-election poll. Formulated by The Times of Israel and the author, from political consultancy firm (202) Strategies, with field work conducted by TRI-Strategic Research between December 25 and January 2, our survey is the most accurate publicly available poll to date, having questioned a relatively large sample of 803 likely voters — as opposed to the Hebrew media’s norm of 500 eligible voters. Of those 803, also in contrast to the Hebrew media norm, 10% of our surveys were conducted by cellphone, and another 10% were conducted in Arabic. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5%, with a confidence level of 95%.
Stephan Miller, cited by Campaigns and Elections magazine in 2008 as “James Carville’s young protege,” is an American-Israeli public opinion research analyst and communications strategist, and a former adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who has worked on campaigns in eight countries across three continents.