As coronavirus outbreak balloons, Netanyahu’s approval rating slides

More people disappointed with prime minister’s handling of virus than approve of it, but his Likud-led bloc would still storm to commanding win if elections held

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on July 5, 2020. (Amit Shabi)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on July 5, 2020. (Amit Shabi)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval has slipped so low that more people now say they are dissatisfied with his handling of the coronavirus outbreak than those who give him their approval, according to a Channel 12 news survey published Monday.

Just 46 percent of those who participated in the survey said they were satisfied with how the prime minister is leading the country through the virus crisis, while 49% said they are unhappy with his performance.

That compares with a poll at the beginning of the month that gave Netanyahu 56% support with 36% dissatisfied. At the beginning of May, before a recent spike in virus infections began, a survey showed 74% of people backed the prime minister’s handling of the outbreak with just 23% saying the opposite.

There has been a similar slide in approval for Netanyahu’s handling of the financial crisis caused by the virus. Unemployment at its height reached over 25%, with a million Israelis without work; over 800,000 are still unemployed. There has been widespread anger from innumerable sectors who say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the difficult times, with outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.

Israeli self-employed and small business owners participate in a rally calling for financial support outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Channel 12’s survey found that 33% think Netanyahu is handling the financial situation satisfactorily; at the beginning of May it was 53%.

By contrast 62% now say they are not satisfied with how he is handling the crisis, compared to 43% at the beginning of May.

As virus infections have soared, with nearly 1,000 new cases each day recently, the government has reimposed some restrictions on the number of people who can attend public gatherings but has so far refrained from ordering a fresh lockdown.

Overall, 59% of respondents said they don’t trust the government’s handling of the virus spread, while 37% responded that decision-makers are doing well.

Among those who identified as being right-wing, 50% said they trust the government’s virus policies while 15% said they don’t.

Of those who identified as being left-wing, 82% said they don’t trust the government’s handling of the outbreak.

Despite the drop in approval figures, Netanyahu and his Likud party were still predicted to easily win an election, if one were held immediately.

An election would give Likud 37 seats, the poll predicted — down from a previous survey showing of 40 seats — but still one seat more than its current 36 seats.

The next largest parties would trail far behind, with 15 seats for the predominantly Arab member Joint List, and the same number for the Yesh Atid-Telem alliance, which would lose two of its current seats.

Blue and White, which in previous elections was the chief challenger to Likud, would drop to 11 seats, three down on the 14 it now holds.

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett, at a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The nationalist Yamina party led by Naftali Bennett, an outspoken critic of the government’s response to the crisis, would climb from six to 11 seats, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party would gain one seat to have nine, secular Yisrael Beytenu would rise one seat from seven to eight, and United Torah Judaism, another ultra-Orthodox party, would remain as it is with seven seats.

The left-wing Meretz party would more than double its representation from three to seven seats.

Four parties currently in the Knesset would not clear the parliamentary threshold, Gesher, Derech Eretz, Jewish Home and the veteran Labor party which has plummeted from its decades-long standing as being the leading center-left faction.

The results showed that an election would give a right-wing / ultra-Orthodox bloc in the Knesset led by Netanyahu 64 seats out of the 120 total. Center-left parties together with the Joint List would have 48 seats, while Yisrael Beytenu, with eight seats, would not have enough to tilt the balance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Israel’s unity government was formed after three inconclusive elections over a year and a half saw Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc and competing center-left bloc led by Blue and White Benny Gantz each fail to beat the 60-seat minimum for a majority.

Monday’s survey was conducted for the network by pollster Manu Geva. No margin of error was given and the report did not say how many people were sampled.

The Health Ministry on Monday evening released new figures showing 962 new coronavirus infections in the previous 24 hours, with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein saying new restrictions approved earlier in the day were aimed at avoiding a national lockdown in the next week or two.

The tally brought the number of total confirmed cases to 30,749. The Health Ministry also announced two new deaths, bringing the toll to 334.

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