The center-left Yesh Atid party would become Israel’s largest Knesset faction if elections were held today, outscoring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, a poll published Tuesday by Channel 2 television found.
The poll was the latest to show the centrist party led by former finance minister Yair Lapid gaining on parliamentary rivals and was the first ever to show the party as the largest.
According to the survey conducted by Machon Midgam, Yesh Atid would claim 24 Knesset seats, many of them at the expense of left-wing parties, while Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party would take just 22 seats, bleeding several seats to factions further to the right.
Formed by Lapid in 2012, the Yesh Atid party stormed to a surprising 19-seat success in the 2013 elections for the Knesset, becoming the second largest party and joining the Likud in a coalition.
In the 2015 elections the party slid to the 11 seats it currently holds in the Knesset, where it sits in the opposition.
The Zionist Union — an amalgam of the once mighty Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party and currently the second-largest party — would win a paltry 13 seats, making it the fourth largest party along with the Joint (Arab) List.
Netanyahu has served as prime minister since 2009, winning three straight elections. While elections aren’t scheduled until 2019, some analysts predict Netanyahu’s shaky coalition of 66 seats will fall before then.
In a response to the poll, the Likud party urged calm, recalling polls ahead of elections in March 2015 that showed Likud losing power to the Zionist Union. “We all remember that in the last elections they prophesied the Likud would get 18 mandates and we saw what happened,” the party said in a statement. The Likud won 30 seats and retained power; Zionist Union scored 24 seats.
The Channel 2 poll was published days after an internal rift opened in Netanyahu’s coalition over the issue of rail work being done on Shabbat. After pressure from ultra-Orthodox coalition partners who threatened to leave the government, Netanyahu canceled the work last Saturday, creating a commuting nightmare on Sunday, and accused Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz from his own Likud party of engineering a coup.
“It is clear that the survey is the result of the crisis on Saturday and it is behind us,” the party said. “Likud voters will return when they understand that Lapid is a leftist leading a left-wing party, that will lead to concessions and withdrawals that will endanger the security of Israel,” Likud said.
The polls numbers show Lapid, though heading the largest party, would have a difficult time forming a government with natural coalition partners from the center and left.
The poll found that Yesh Atid’s surge would come largely at the expense of Zionist Union, which would see half of its voters switch allegiance to Lapid.
Zionist Union would also find itself trailing the national-religious Jewish Home, which would take 14 seats — a large rise from its current eight.
Hawkish Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party would win 10 seats, up from its current six, while United Torah Judaism would claim seven seats, one more than it now has. Shas would lose a seat to take six, while center-right newcomer Kulanu would also win just six seats, losing almost half of its current 10. The left-wing Meretz would remain steady with five seats.
The margin of error for the poll, breakdown of respondents, or timing of the poll were not published by the channel.
The predictions matched similar results from two polls last month that also saw Yesh Atid make large gains if an election were held now.
One poll, conducted by the Geocartographia institute for Army Radio, gave the Zionist Union list just eight seats. Yesh Atid, meanwhile, seemed to pick up much of that loss, jumping to 22. It also showed Likud dropping to 25 seats, which would still leave it as as the largest party.
Another poll, conducted by the Ma’agar Mohot polling firm for the Nissim Mishal radio show on Radio Lelo Hafsaka 103FM, tracked closely with the Army Radio survey. In it, Zionist Union dropped from 24 to 10, Yesh Atid jumped to 21 and Likud dipped slightly from 30 to 27.