‘Election Compass’ users score Herzog above Netanyahu, scholar says
Elections 2015

‘Election Compass’ users score Herzog above Netanyahu, scholar says

Dutch director of website says data also show PM seen as less likable than challenger, yet elections far from a done deal

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog in the Knesset, January 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog in the Knesset, January 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israeli voters consider Isaac Herzog slightly more capable of leading the country than Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a Dutch election researcher who studied Israeli voter attitudes ahead of the current elections via an online survey he developed.

The incumbent prime minister is also seen as significantly less likable than his challenger, according to his analysis of the data.

“Our data show a very substantial decline in not only the likability of Bibi [Netanyahu] compared to 2013, but also a decline in the way people perceive him as a leader, as capable to govern the country,” said Dr. André Krouwel, who lectures on comparative politics at VU University Amsterdam.

The result contradicts numerous polls that indicated that more Israelis would like Netanyahu to be prime minister rather than Herzog. A Times of Israel poll conducted in February found that 43 percent of likely voters had an unfavorable view of Herzog.

Krouwel, who traveled to Israel for the elections, is the academic director of Israel Election Compass, a website helping undecided voters find the party that best matches their political preferences by asking them about their political views and personal feelings toward the candidates, then placing them on a political map.

His findings, he stressed, do not necessarily mean that Herzog is going to win Tuesday’s elections.

More than 100,000 Israelis have used the 2015 Israeli Election Compass, which is available in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Based on a thorough analysis of the data recorded by the website and subsequent follow-up emails to users, Krouwel concluded that Israeli voters lost personal sympathy for and confidence in Netanyahu since the last elections.

Users of the Israeli Election Compass were asked to rate the candidates’ “ability to successfully manage the affairs of the country.” In 2013, Netanyahu scored 5.34, but in the current campaign his score dropped to 4.44.

Herzog’s ability to govern was rated 4.82. (Ahead of the last elections, his predecessor as Labor chair, Shelly Yachimovich received 4.32 in 2013.)

While in 2013 Netanyahu had a 4.0 score in “personal likability”on a scale from 1 to 10, in 2015 it has shrunk to 3.63. Herzog scored 4.57, nearly an entire grade above the prime minister. (Yachimovich received a 4.38 likability score.)

A drop of nearly one whole grade point is “substantial for an incumbent,” Krouwel told The Times of Israel regarding Netanyahu’s score on the ability to govern. More importantly, for the first time Netanyahu’s challenger is considered more able to lead the country, he observed. In the previous elections, Yachimovich wasn’t even close to Netanyahu’s grade, he added, which is “another indicator that Herzog is having some electoral wind in his sails.”

The data culled from entries to the Israeli Election Compass cannot be compared to surveys with representative samples, as it includes only the views and opinions of Internet users who chose to visit this particular website, most of whom are younger than the average Israeli voter. To offset this bias, the responses of older users are given more weight in the analysis, he said.

Krouwel created the Israeli Election Compass together with the late American-Israeli political scientist Asher Arian, who headed the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center for Surveys and was considered the founder of Israeli election studies. Created in the Netherlands, the “Kieskompas” has been imported to 43 countries, where versions are created with the help of local political scientists. The Israeli version of the Kieskompas was first launched ahead of the 2009 elections.

Dr. Andre Krouwel (photo credit: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Dr. Andre Krouwel (photo credit: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

The data indicating that voters trust Herzog with running the country more than Netanyahu do not mean that the Zionist Camp is going to win the election, Krouwel cautioned. “Among the left-wing voters there is a reluctant attitude toward Herzog in terms of his capability to govern,” he explained. “Many left-wing voters have still not decided if Herzog is actually a good leader — there’s a lot of people who give him an intermediate score.”

Only if left-leaning voters “overcome their reluctance and give Herzog the benefit of the doubt” will his party emerge victorious, added the academic, whose research usually focuses on the rise and fall of new political parties and political entrepreneurs.

Asking users whether they have already decided who to vote for or have not yet made up their minds, the Election Compass can give some insights into undecided voters, which might well turn out to be the determining factor in the elections. On Monday, 18 percent of voters had not yet figured out who to vote for, according to Krouwel. “Even my taxi driver is undecided, between [Moshe] Kahlon and Bibi,” he said. “Kahlon can give either bloc the majority,” he added, referring to a center-left bloc headed by Herzog or a center-right bloc led by Netanyahu.

Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu party will most likely be these elections’ kingmaker, Krouwel said, confirming the analysis of many Israeli pundits. But Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is also going to be a force to be reckoned with, he said. “He’s still quite popular. In fact, he’s still one of Israel’s most popular politicians.”

While Lapid’s likability score decreased slightly since the last elections (from 4.77 to 4.61), he still scored higher than any other Israeli party leader. Also, his capability to run this country is now rated higher than in 2013 (from 3.94 to 4.07).

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, is the least-liked party chief according to Krouwel’s data, yet interestingly managed to improve his image, albeit marginally, in the past two years. Ahead of the 2013 election, he received an average 2.68 likability rating, but managed to climb up to 3.02 in the current campaign.

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