An opinion poll published Friday showed the Blue and White party opening a six-seat lead, its biggest yet, over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, but still lacking the numbers needed to form a center-left government.
The poll, published by the normally pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper, is also the first to predict that if the premier’s internal rival Gideon Sa’ar wins the Likud leadership primaries, to be held on December 26, the party will fare no worse than with Netanyahu at the helm.
Sa’ar has the edge over Netanyahu according to the survey since while both won’t manage to lead the right-wing religious bloc to the necessary 61 Knesset seats, Sa’ar is predicted to secure 56 seats while Netanyahu falls to a low of just 51 for the bloc.
The results of the survey are similar, although better for Blue and White and for Sa’ar, than the results of a Channel 12 poll published Thursday evening, which was the first to be conducted after MKs voted Wednesday night to dissolve the Knesset and call an unprecedented third election within a year following two earlier elections which both ended in a stalemate.
If elections were held today, the Israel Hayom poll said Blue and White — led by Benny Gantz — would pick up a record 37 seats, up from 33 now, while Likud would drop from its current 32 to 31.
The Joint List, a coalition of four majority Arab parties, would strengthen from its current 13 seats to 14, while Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu would match its current tally of eight.
Liberman, a right-wing secularist, helped trigger the current impasse after refusing to join a Netanyahu-led coalition following elections in April over disagreements with the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox allies.
After September’s elections, Liberman sought to force a government of Yisrael Beytenu, Likud and Blue and White, but unity talks broke down with the two largest parties arguing over the terms of such a coalition.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas would drop from nine to eight seats, according to the poll, whereas fellow Haredi party United Torah Judaism would keep its current seven.
The New Right, a nationalist, religiously liberal party to the right of Likud, would receive five seats, up from three.
The center-left Labor-Gesher would match its current total of six seats, while the left-wing Democratic Camp would drop from five to four.
Jewish Home-National Union, a pair of national-religious factions that ran in the last elections as part of the Yamina alliance with New Right, would fail to clear the 3.25 percent minimum electoral threshold, as would the far-right Otzma Yehudit party.
Overall, Likud and its allies would get 51 seats, down four from its current tally, and the center-left and Arab parties would grow by three seats to 61. However, those 61 wouldn’t be able to form a coalition since the Balad faction within the Joint List refuses to cooperate with the centrist Blue and White and with Gantz. Therefore, Liberman would again retain the kingmaker position in between the two blocs.
The poll also asked about voting preferences should Sa’ar achieve a major upset and defeat Netanyahu in a Likud leadership primary set for later this month.
Unlike many other recent polls which predicted a drop in support for Likud in that scenario, the current poll predicts it will win 31 — on par with Netanyahu’s projected result.
The party would still fall short of Blue and White, which would only win 33 in that case, but the right-wing religious bloc would grow to 56 seats, with Shas — quite oddly — swelling to 11 seats. That result would likewise end in a deadlock with Liberman playing the key role.
Asked who was best suited to be prime minister, 42 percent said Netanyahu and 40% Gantz, within the poll’s 4.4% margin of error.
When paired with Sa’ar, 36% said Gantz, ahead of the 31% who picked the Likud MK.
A plurality of respondents pinned the blame for third elections on Netanyahu, with 43% saying he was responsible. Another 30% blamed Liberman, 6% said Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid, and just 5% blamed Gantz. Two percent placed the blame on the ultra-Orthodox parties, and 14% said they don’t know or gave other answers.
Asked what ruling government they would prefer, 30% picked a unity government consisting of Likud and Blue and White, while 20% chose a narrow right-wing government. 19% want a government consisting of both the right-wing bloc and Blue and White, while 15% want a narrow center-left government headed by Blue and White.
The Israel Hayom survey, conducted Thursday by the Maagar Mochot Institute, included 500 respondents.