Most likely voters have a positive view of Benjamin Netanyahu, and yet most likely voters also give him only a fair or downright bad rating as prime minister, The Times of Israel’s pre-election poll finds. (Our poll gives his Likud-Beytenu 34 seats ahead of the January 22 elections.)

Among our survey of 803 likely voters, 53 percent have a positive view of Netanyahu and 41% negative. For any incumbent prime minister given the economy of the world today, this is very good.

This positive rating is driven by the ideological right (38% of voters) who have strong positive feelings towards him — 87% positive compared to 10% negative. The center is 43% positive and 52% negative; the left is 6% positive and 86% negative.

There are demographics that help drive Netanyahu’s favorability numbers. While 53% of all likely voters have favorable views of him, Orthodox Jews have an 81% favorable view and Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews have a 70% favorable view. Not surprisingly, of the non-Jewish respondents of our survey (conducted for this population in Arabic), only 8% had a favorable view while 86% had a negative view toward Netanyahu.

His favorability is also clearly driven by perception of the country, where there is a deep divide between the optimists and pessimists among Israeli voters. Among those who see Israel moving in the correct direction, he receives 84% positive and 11% negative ratings. Among those voters who see Israel moving in the wrong direction, 29% view him positively while 66% view him negatively.

As such, Netanyahu’s support is directly tied to general perception of the direction of Israel. Today, 35% of voters see Israel going in the right direction while 51% see it going in the wrong direction. If this perception changes in either direction in the remaining days of the election due to outside events or the campaigns themselves, watch for a direct effect on Netanyahu’s perception and his vote.

On the issues that encompass this election, Netanyahu is viewed most positively among voters who put security issues before socioeconomic ones. Of voters who say the Iranian threat is the most important issue facing the next government, 86% view Netanayhu favorably, as do 78% of voters who say instability in countries in the region is the most important issue. Among the 43% of voters who put economic issues as the most important, Netanyahu’s positive favorability rating drops to 47%, below Shelly Yachimovich’s 51% positive rating in this group.

Through it all, there’s a trait, a skill, a special something that Netanyahu has that other politicians envy and it was clearly defined  in the data. Simply put, it’s the capacity for voters to think Netanyahu is doing a bad job, but still like him. When voters were asked how Netanyahu was doing in his job as prime minister, 10% said excellent, 29% said good, 35% said fair, and 22% said bad.

Netanyahu’s job rating is distinctly political. If you believe the job he’s doing is good, you’re likely a self-described right-wing voter, the better the job the more right-wing. If you think he’s doing a bad job, you’re a center-left voter and the worse the job the more left-wing.

Of those who say Netanyahu is doing a good job as prime minister, 94% like him – they have strong positive feelings toward him. And here’s the amazing data point: of the 57% of voters who say he’s only doing a fair or downright bad job as prime minister, a full 29% still have positive views of him. To clarify this even more — there are 16% of voters who say that Netanyahu is doing only a fair or bad job as prime minister but still have positive views toward him. To translate that into Hebrew, that’s 19 seats in the Knesset worth of voters.

While there might be voters who like Netanyahu and vote for a party other than Likud-Beytenu, there is just about no one voting for Likud-Beytenu who doesn’t like Netanyahu – a full 99% of current Likud-Beytenu voters have a positive view toward the prime minister. He is the Likud-Beytenu. For comparison, this is not the case with Shelly Yahimovich, as only 88% of current Labor voters have a positive view of Shelly.

This presents two options for the Likud-Beytenu campaign. First, it can focus on Netanyahu the person — the leader — and attempt to strengthen his vote among those voters who have positive feelings toward him but currently do not vote for Likud-Beytenu. The second option is for the campaign to set the record straight on Netanyahu’s current government accomplishments as prime minister and try to bring his job approval ratings upward. From the opposite perspective, his opponents should be laser focused on his record as prime minister — his weakness — and not his personal characteristics — his strength.

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This is the seventh 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 to cellphones, and another 10% were conducted in Arabic. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5%, with a confidence level of 95%.

The methodology of the poll is detailed here and the raw results are here.

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.