A pair of television polls aired Thursday signaled slumping support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, with his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party predicted to make a major surge.
No elections are currently planned, but speculation has intensified in recent days that Netanyahu has resolved to dissolve his unity pact with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and go to new elections, in what would be the fourth national vote since April 2019. The two factions are currently locked in a battle over passing a budget for the rest of 2020 and 2021.
According to a poll published by Channel 13 news, Likud would receive 29 seats if elections were held today, down from the 36 it now has and lower than the 40 it received in opinion polls in recent months.
The poll forecast Yamina would be the second-largest party with a whopping 19 seats, nearly quadrupling its current tally of five.
Lawmakers in Yamina backed Netanyahu throughout the election campaigns of 2019-2020, but the party was left out of the new coalition. Now in the opposition, Bennett has seen his popularity rise as he criticizes the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Also picking up 19 seats in the poll was Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem party, followed by the predominantly-Arab Joint List with 15.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White received eight seats, down from the 14 it now has. MK Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu was also forecast to get eight seats, as was the ultra-Orthodox Shas.
Both United Torah Judaism and the left-wing Meretz party received seven seats.
When including Yamina, Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc held 63 seats in the Channel 13 poll, enough for a majority in the 120-member parliament.
Another poll by the Kan public broadcaster predicted 30 seats for Likud, 17 for Yesh-Atid-Telem, 15 for Yamina, 12 for Blue and White, 9 for Shas, 8 for UTJ, 7 for Yisrael Beytenu and 6 for Meretz.
Netanyahu’s bloc had 62 seats according to this poll, enough for a slim majority.
Both of the surveys had the Derech Eretz, Labor, Otzma Yehudit, Jewish Home and Gesher parties well below the 3.25% electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset.
In another signal of rising support for Bennett, the Kan poll found the Yamina chief is now regarded by many more Israelis as worthy of the the premiership than in the past. Netanyahu was considered by 37% of respondents as best suited to serve as prime minister, followed by 19% for Bennett, 15% for Lapid and 10% for Gantz.
The poll also asked about Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with 31% saying they approve, versus 62% who disapprove.
The Channel 13 survey, conducted by pollster Camil Fuchs, included 704 respondents and had a margin of error of 3.9%. The Kan poll had 599 respondents and a 4.4% margin of error.
After the latest elections in March again ended in a stalemate, Gantz and Netanyahu agreed on a power-sharing deal that would see the former take over as prime minister in November 2021. The deal split Blue and White, due to the party’s campaign pledge not to join a government led by the premier because of his indictment on graft charges.
Since the government’s formation, Likud and Blue and White have feuded over numerous issues, but the passage of a new budget has become the greatest threat to the future of the coalition.
While Gantz backs passing a budget through 2021 as stipulated in the coalition deal between Blue and White and Likud, Netanyahu is now calling for one that only covers the rest of the year, citing the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
While Netanyahu has to hand over the premiership to Gantz if he calls new elections before the Blue and White chief takes over as prime minister in November 2021, the coalition deal made an exception for a failure to pass a budget, leading to speculation the Likud leader was forcing the budget crisis to avoid having to leave office.