One year after the elections that kept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power but resulted in a disappointing showing by his Likud-Beytenu list, the two-party alliance is seeing dramatic gains among likely voters. If elections were held today, Likud-Beytenu would rise by 15 Knesset seats from its current 31 to 46, a Times of Israel poll has found.

The remarkable increase for the alliance, helmed by Likud leader Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu head Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, lifts it far ahead of any potential rivals and would guarantee a strengthening of its hold on power. In the 2009 elections, when they ran separately, the Likud party won 27 seats and Yisrael Beytenu 15, for a combined 42 seats; the new Times of Israel poll suggests support for the paired parties, which have yet to decide on whether to fully merge, has returned to and even surpassed that 2009 level.

While Likud-Beytenu’s share of Knesset seats would rise from 31 to 46 if elections were held today among existing parties, the centrist Yesh Atid would fall from 19 to 13; center-left Labor would grow from 15 to 18; the religious-nationalist Jewish Home would drop from 12 to eight; Shas (ultra-Orthodox Sephardi) and (left-wing) Meretz would remain steady at 11 and six, respectively; the combined Arab parties’ showing would drop from 11 seats to eight; United Torah Judaism (ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi) and (center-left) Hatnua would each drop a seat, from seven to six and from six to five, respectively; and the two-seat Kadima party would not pass the two-percent vote currently threshold required to enter the Knesset.

These figures include undecided voters, who are distributed according to the ideology they expressed in follow-up questions. Likud-Beytenu’s support among decided voters is even higher — at 46%, or 55 seats; it falls to 38%, or 46 seats, when undecideds are accounted for.

If elections were held today... Times of Israel poll, December 2013. (credit: Stephan Miller, (202) Strategies)

If elections were held today… Times of Israel poll, December 2013. (credit: Stephan Miller, (202) Strategies)

Some of Likud-Beytenu’s gains are due to the relative popularity of Netanyahu himself, the poll indicates. A majority, or 52%, of likely voters agreed with the statement that there is no viable alternative to Netanyahu as prime minister among the current class of Israeli politicians; just 35% disagree. Even on the left, 36% of likely voters agreed with this statement.

Likud-Beytenu’s dramatic increase also comes from self-identified right-wing voters, who are abandoning Yesh Atid in the center (down from 19 seats to 13) and Jewish Home on the right in favor of the ruling Knesset faction. Whereas Likud-Beytenu got 39% of right-wing votes in last year’s elections, that support has risen to 50% — even as the number of those voters as a whole has grown. This growth has come notably at the expense of the Jewish Home party, which has seen its share of right-wing votes drop from 18% last year to just 6%.

Still, it is important not to overstate the significance of Jewish Home’s slide. While Likud-Beytenu has undoubtedly gained ground, fully 20% of right-wing voters still say they are undecided. As negotiations with the Palestinians continue, Netanyahu may lose some voters on Likud-Beytenu’s right flanks to the more hawkish Jewish Home.

The collapse of the center

The poll figures are relatively good news for Labor, which returns from third- to second-place, but they are bad for the left generally. While a huge number of likely voters — 31% — are undecided as to their party vote, more voters now say they are generally conservative.

The January 2013 pre-election Times of Israel survey already found an electorate that identified far more with the right than with the left, with 38% of likely voters saying they were on the right, 36% on the center, and just 19% on the left – a 19-point gap between right and left.

Today, a full 42% of likely voters self-identify as right and just 21% as left – a 21-point gap. Just 23% continue to describe themselves as center.

The electorate becomes more conservative. (credit: Stephan Miller, (202) Strategies)

The electorate becomes more conservative. (credit: Stephan Miller, (202) Strategies)

Perhaps the most dramatic phenomenon shown by the latest figures is this abandonment of the center and the growing tendency of likely voters to take more polarized positions — likely a result of the US-brokered peace talks.

This polarization was driven by secular Jewish voters, who make up 45% of the electorate. The left and right both grew among secular Jews — the left from 19% to 26%, the right from 24% to 34%. But the share of secular voters who identified with the center collapsed, from 51% to 29%.

Secular Jews leaving the center. (credit: Stephan Miller, (202) Strategies)

Secular Jews leaving the center. (credit: Stephan Miller, (202) Strategies)

If there is a ray of light for Netanyahu’s opponents, it is that those who remain in the center appear to be slowly souring on the prime minister, and might increasingly support candidates who oppose him.

Last year, 38% of undecided likely voters had an unfavorable view of Netanyahu; 47% do today, equaling the nearly unchanged 48% who are favorable. Similarly, while 34% of undecided voters gave Netanyahu an excellent or good job rating in last year’s poll, just 24% do today. Those giving him a negative job rating rose from 60% to 70%.

Undecideds are, predictably, more clustered in the center of the political map, with 43% of self-identified centrist voters saying they have not yet chosen a party — though the actual numbers of these centrist undecideds has shrunk as the center itself has dwindled.

***

The survey was conducted December 26-31, 2013, among a representative sample of 802 Israeli adults who had voted in the past or were too young to vote in the previous election but are eligible to vote now. 70.8% of completed calls were directed to landline home phones and 29.1% to mobile phones, helping to compensate for the high percentage of 18-34-year-olds who do not have regular landline phones. 10.2% of respondents were Arabic speakers surveyed in Arabic, and 15.6% were Russian speakers surveyed in Russian. The findings are rounded to the nearest whole digit. The margin of error is +/-3.5% with a 95% confidence level.

This is the fourth in a series of articles that The Times of Israel is publishing on the basis of the poll. The survey was formulated by The Times of Israel and the author, from political consultancy firm (202) Strategies, with field work conducted by Shvakim Panorama. Our survey is the most accurate publicly available poll to date, having questioned a relatively large sample of 802 likely voters — as opposed to the Hebrew media’s norm of 500 eligible voters.

Stephan Miller, cited by Campaigns and Elections magazine in 2008 as “James Carville’s young protegé,” 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 nine countries across four continents.