Poll shows Gantz’s party soaring as Likud nosedives, Smotrich out of Knesset

Survey finds National Unity leader preferred over Netanyahu for prime minister; Bennett, who could win 13 seats with a new party, also seen as a possible replacement

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz (right) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference at the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv. December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz (right) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference at the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv. December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz would have a smooth pathway to a governing coalition if elections were held today, and would be the public’s pick for prime minister, a TV network poll found Monday.

The survey, aired by Channel 12, showed a significant dent in support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his prewar coalition partners, underlining public criticism of the government over mistakes leading up to Hamas’s October 7 assault on southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were slaughtered and 240 taken hostage, and its handling of the ensuing war and efforts to free the hostages.

According to the poll, the parties in Netanyahu’s prewar coalition would muster just 44 Knesset seats compared to the 64 they won in the November 2022 elections, while a presumed future coalition bloc made up of parties that were defeated in November 2022 would win 71 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

The survey also showed that Gantz, who temporarily joined Netanyahu’s coalition to have a seat at the table running the war, would lead the largest party in the Knesset, while the far-right Religious Zionism party of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, which ran on a joint slate with Otzma Yehudit in the last election, would fail to make it back into the Knesset.

Results follow trends seen in other wartime polls published in recent weeks.

Gantz’s National Unity party would soar to 37 seats from its current 12, the survey found, while Netanyahu’s Likud would crash to 18 from its current 32, though that would still make it the second-largest party.

Among likely Gantz partners, centrist Yesh Atid would snag 15 seats, down from its current 24, while the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu would win nine, up from the six it controls now. Islamist Ra’am would keep its five seats and left-wing Meretz would also win five seats after failing to cross the 3.25 percent vote threshold to enter the Knesset last time around.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties would keep their current 11 and seven seats respectively, while far-right Otzma Yehudit would win eight seats, down from the 14 it mustered together with Religious Zionism in their temporary alliance.

Arab Hadash-Ta’al, thought unlikely to join any ruling coalition, would keep its five seats.

Religious Zionism, Balad, and Labor, which squeaked in with four seats last year, all scored below the Knesset threshold in the poll.

The survey found that former prime minister Naftali Bennett, former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and former deputy chief of staff Yair Golan could significantly shake up the standings if they return to politics.

In that scenario, the factions would score as follows: National Unity 23; Likud 15; Bennett’s party 13; Shas 11; Yesh Atid 10; Labor-Meretz led by Golan 9; Yossi Cohen’s party 9; UTJ 7; Otzma Yehudit 7; Yisrael Beytenu 6; Hadash-Ta’al 5; and Ra’am 5.

National Unity had been on the rise even before October 7, with Netanyahu and his coalition losing support amid massive backlash over government plans to overhaul the judiciary.

In a poll a month before the war began, National Unity led the Likud 29 to 26, with the current coalition at 52 seats, and the former one at 63.

Once the war broke out on October 7, successive polls showed a sharp decline in support for Likud while National Unity’s support soared. A survey aired on November 16 showed National Unity with 36 seats, Likud with 17, and the coalition reduced to 45 seats compared to the opposition’s 70.

The last poll, aired November 23, gave Gantz’s party 43 seats compared to Netanyahu’s 18, with coalition parties crashing to 41 seats and opposition parties skyrocketing to 79.

Monday’s survey, conducted by Midgam, included 504 respondents, a relatively small sample size. The survey had a margin of error of 4.4%.

Asked who is more fitting to serve as prime minister, Gantz scored 45% compared to 27% for Netanyahu in a head-to-head contest. Bennett also outscored Netanyahu by 33% to 29%. Netanyahu scored 32% over Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s 28%.

Asked whether elections, not scheduled for some three years, should be brought forward, 57% said yes and 35% said no.

While declining to accept blame for Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack, Netanyahu has indicated that leaders will eventually answer for their mistakes, with widespread speculation that there could be significant political ramifications, including new elections, once the dust settles following the ensuing war against Hamas in Gaza.

Asked whether the Palestinian Authority should take control of Gaza after the war, 54% said no and 19% said yes.

US President Joe Biden has called for a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority to control the enclave following the war after an interim international force, along with implementing a path to a two-state solution.

Netanyahu has indicated the PA will not return to Gaza but has been unclear on his plan for the Strip’s future.

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