A Republican pollster who worked with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign told a New York radio station Sunday that the Likud party’s internal polls two days ahead of the March 17 election already augured the right-wing party’s victory.
Election surveys published in various Israeli media outlets on the Friday before last Tuesday’s elections showed Likud trailing the Zionist Union by several seats, and the initial March 17 exit polls had the two parties in a dead heat. Final results, however, gave Likud a decisive victory with 23 percent of the vote, or 30 seats, six more than the Zionist Union.
John McLaughlin, a pollster who worked with the Likud party’s election campaign, told “The Cats Roundtable” on AM 970 that despite the fact that “most Israeli media polls had Netanyahu and his Likud party losing to the left right up until the Friday… through the weekend, Netanyahu rose [in internal polls]. Our last poll [on Sunday night], we had Likud at 23% of the vote, and that’s what they got.”
Netanyahu’s critics denounced the manner in which he drummed up support for his apparently flagging party on election day by calling on Likud supporters to vote because “Arab voters are flocking in huge quantities to the polling stations.”
According to McLaughlin, however, there was no indication that Likud was trailing. And he ascribed the Zionist Union’s Monday night decision to drop No. 2 Tzipi Livni from a premiership-sharing agreement with party leader Isaac Herzog to the fact that “they got the same polls we did.”
(Herzog said in an interview Saturday that his party’s own polls had shown him to be five seats ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud as late as noon on election day. Even when the TV exit polls as voting ended showed the two parties tied, he had expected that he would be able to form a coalition, and not Netanyahu, Herzog said.)
Among the critics of Netanyahu’s election day “Arabs voting” remark was US President Barack Obama, who said that “that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions.”
In a subsequent interview, Netanyahu claimed that he was not warning about Arab voters per se, but rather about the alleged efforts of foreign actors to sway the outcome to the election by rallying left-wing voters.
The pollster also echoed Netanyahu’s claim of foreign influence, but fingered Obama himself, claiming that the president “and his allies were playing in the election to defeat” Netanyahu.
McLaughlin said that vast amounts of American taxpayer funds were going to groups such as V15, which, he alleged, worked to unite the Arab parties into the merged Joint List and bring out the vote against the Likud party.
“The State Department people in the end of January, early February, expedited visas for [Israeli] Arab leaders to come to the United States to learn how to vote. They used to be in three different parties that had 11 members of Knesset… they moved up this time…” he said. “There were people in the United States that were organizing them to vote in one party so they would help the left-of-center candidate, Herzog, that the Obama administration favored.”
McLaughlin said that Israelis favored Netanyahu over Obama.
“The Israelis don’t like the fact that the president’s become really partisan with them,” McLaughlin said. “They’re used to enjoying good relations with the United States, whether Republicans or Democrats.”
“[Obama is] a big negative over there… (On security) they’re very concerned about what the president might do before he leaves office… The president really overplayed his hand,” he said.