For first time in a year, poll shows Netanyahu preferred to Gantz as prime minister

TV survey finds PM’s Likud party gaining on his centrist rival’s National Unity, which also stands to lose most from a possible new alliance of PM’s former right-wing partners

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz at a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz at a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu overtook war cabinet minister Benny Gantz as the public’s preferred choice for premier in a television survey aired Wednesday, marking the first time in a year that the incumbent rated higher than his best-polling rival.

The Channel 12 news poll also found Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party gaining on Gantz’s centrist National Union, while indicating that a potential all-star slate of Netanyahu’s former right-wing allies could win a double-digit number of parliamentary seats, mainly at the expense of National Union.

If elections were held today, according to the poll, National Union would pick up 25 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, while Likud would win 21. The four-seat gap between the two parties is down from a high of 19 seats in a December survey, when Gantz’s party led Netanyahu’s by 37 seats to 18, the network noted.

Respondents preferred Netanyahu to Gantz as premier by a margin of 36 percent to 30% in Wednesday’s survey, marking his first lead since a poll from May 18, 2023, when Netanyahu was at 38% at Gantz at 37%.

Gantz’s lead over Netanyahu had soared in the aftermath of October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people and take over 250 hostages.

Gantz, who joined the government days later, was shown in a December poll leading Netanyahu 45% to 27%. As recently as April, Gantz was still out in front, with 35% preferring him while 29% backed Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes the hand of then-newly appointed minister Benny Gantz at a special session presenting the new emergency government at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, October 12, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Channel 12 attributed the shift to Gantz’s recent threat to bolt the government, apparently shedding considerable support he had accrued for perceived statesmanship in joining the emergency coalition.

In addition to Gantz, Netanyahu also ranked higher than Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (37% to 30%), former prime minister Naftali Bennett (34% to 32%), and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman (36% to 19%).

The latter two, according to the survey, could garner 16 Knesset seats if they ran together in a new right-wing alliance with ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen — a Netanyahu protege yet to officially enter the race — and Gideon Sa’ar, a former top Likud minister whose New Hope party trends under the electoral threshold in polls after it recently ended an alliance with National Unity.

File – L-R: Former prime minister Naftali Bennett at a court hearing in Tel Aviv, September 11, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90); New Hope party chief Gideon Sa’ar at the Knesset, Jerusalem, April 1, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); Ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen at HaKirya base in Tel Aviv, January 16, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90).

The potential new right-wing party would apparently hit National Unity hardest: With the new right-wing party as an option, the poll said Gantz’s faction would win 21 seats, down from 25 seats without it. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party won 13 seats without the potential party as an option and 12 with it, while Netanyahu’s Likud won 21 seats in both scenarios.

On the left side of the political spectrum, the Channel 12 survey awarded 10 seats to an anticipated alliance of the Labor and Meretz parties, headed by newly elected Labor leader Yair Golan.

Repeated polls had hitherto shown Meretz teetering on the electoral threshold in the next elections, and Labor, under former leader Merav Michaeli, consistently missing it.

A former IDF deputy chief of staff, Golan has previously been elected to the Knesset on a left-wing unity slate, as well as with Meretz alone. He was not reelected to the current Knesset after Meretz failed to clear the minimum threshold.

Yair Golan at his headquarters in Tel Aviv hours before being announced the winner of the Labor party’s leadership election, May 28, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Golan, whose bitter criticism of Netanyahu and his coalition, including its attempted judicial overhaul, drew rightwing vilification, saw renewed popularity after dashing south to rescue people from the Nova music festival massacre on October 7.

Wednesday’s poll also awarded 10 seats to Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas; 10 to Liberman’s secularist Yisrael Beytenu; 9 to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s extremist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power); 7 to the Ashkenazic ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism; 5 to the Arab Islamist Ra’am; 5 to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism; and 5 to Hadash-Ta’al, an alliance between the binational Communist party and veteran MK Ahmad Tibi’s secularist Palestinian faction, respectively.

The results add up to a total of 52 seats for the pro-Netanyahu bloc, compared to 64 it holds in the current Knesset. The anti-Netanyahu bloc would win the remaining 68 seats, but would likely find it hard to form a majority coalition in the 120-member Knesset, given the tensions between Liberman’s nationalist party and the two majority-Arab lists, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al.

File – Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Outside of electoral politics, 49% of respondents to the Channel 12 survey supported the immediate formation of a state commission of inquiry into the events of October 7; 40% want a state inquiry at the end of the war; and 3% do not want such an inquiry at all.

The poll also showed that 63% of respondents think Miri Regev should resign over her alleged misconduct as transportation minister, while 15% think she should stay.

The survey was conducted May 29 by Midgam, among 503 representative respondents, by phone and internet, with a 4.4% margin of error.

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