Poll shows public less critical of government’s response to COVID; Yamina slips

TV survey shows Likud making small gains at expense of right-wing rival, but neither pro- nor anti-PM blocs have clear path to forming a government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) during a visit to a COVID-19 vaccination center in Zarzir, northern Israel, February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) during a visit to a COVID-19 vaccination center in Zarzir, northern Israel, February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The public view of the government’s handling of the pandemic is improving slightly, according to a poll published Tuesday.

The Channel 12 poll, which was conducted by the Midgam Institute, also showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party making small gains at the expense of its rival Yamina ahead of the March election.

Asked what they thought of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, 50 percent of respondents had a negative view while 47% had a positive view. In a poll published by the channel a month ago, 59% said they had a negative view and 39% had a positive outlook.

Asked specifically about the economic aspects of the pandemic, 67% had a negative view of the government’s conduct, while 29% had a positive one — an improvement over the previous poll, which found 72% of respondents had a negative view and 25% saw the government response favorably.

Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, which repeatedly criticized the government on its response to the virus, appeared to be weakening, and is on the verge of dropping down to single digits in projected Knesset seats.

The survey showed Likud winning 29 seats; Yesh Atid, 18; New Hope, 13; Yamina, 10; the Joint List, 9; Shas, 8; United Torah Judaism, 7; Yisrael Betyenu, 7; Labor, 6; Religious Zionism, 5; Meretz, 4; and Blue and White, 4.

A poll published by Channel 12 last week showed exactly the same results for all parties other than Likud, which gained a seat, and Yamina, which lost one.

No party leader has a clear path to a Knesset majority.

According to Tuesday’s poll, the so-called anti-Netanyahu bloc — made up of parties whose leaders have said they will not sit in a government with the prime minister — has 61 seats; the Likud plus ultra-Orthodox parties bloc has 44 seats, with the presumed Netanyahu ally Religious Zionism adding 5 more; and Yamina, as an undecided factor, has 10.

Bennett has declared himself a candidate for prime minister, but has not ruled out sitting in a coalition with Likud.

The poll was conducted among 503 adults who were a representative sample of the Israeli population, with a margin of error of 4.4%.

While horse-race polls are an almost daily occurrence in Israel in the months leading up to elections and are not seen as overly reliable, taken together the surveys can often serve as a general gauge of the political climate and where the vote may be headed.

Previous surveys have generally predicted political deadlock after the election, with no party having a clear path to assembling a majority coalition.

National elections — the fourth in two years — were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.

The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s varied success battling the pandemic.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett visits the ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Elad, central Israel, September 6, 2020. (Flash90)

Speaking to Channel 12 Tuesday night, Yamina’s Bennett bashed Netanyahu’s handling of the economy, highlighting the fact that no 2020 budget was passed despite the prime minister apparently claiming so during an interview Monday.

“The prime minister sat here yesterday in a festive mood as if he had liberated Jerusalem, when in fact 5,400 people died,” Bennett said, berating what he called Netanyahu’s “patting himself on the shoulder.”

“I can not criticize his rhetorical ability, but a million people are unemployed,” Bennett said. “There is a state to manage and it is not being managed.”

During the first outbreak of the virus in the spring, unemployment figures issued by the Employment Service spiked as 800,000 people quickly lost work in Israel’s initial lockdown. They have since fluctuated as the country has moved in and out of restrictions and closures.

Asked about his party’s falling polling numbers, Bennett said, “After the election, we will see the state of the seats. I need a few more seats to bring about a change of leadership… with 15 seats, it is possible to come and change the leadership in a real way.”

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