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TV poll among Arab Israelis suggests uptick in turnout due to Joint List split

State Arabic news site survey sees turnout rising from 38% to 40.5% since breakup, but estimates it would have to reach 52% for Balad to make it into the Knesset

An Arab Israeli man votes at a polling station in Maghar, March. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)
An Arab Israeli man votes at a polling station in Maghar, March. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)

Expected election turnout among Arab Israelis has risen slightly since the shock splintering of the Joint List parties on Thursday night, according to a poll by the Kan state broadcaster’s Arabic news site Makan, but it would have to rise a lot further for the Balad party, now running alone, to make it in to the Knesset.

The survey, published Sunday, indicated that turnout in the Arab community was creeping up from a predicted 38.2 percent at the beginning of September to 40.5%. With Balad breaking away for Hadash-Ta’al just before the Thursday night deadline for parties to submit their lists, turnout would need to hit 52% for it to win seats in the Knesset on November 1, according to analysts.

In 2020, the high turnout of 63.5% in Arab localities garnered the Joint List — then made up of Ra’am, Hadash, Ta’al, and Balad — a record high 15 seats.

Last year’s elections, when Ra’am ran separate from the rest of the Joint List, saw turnout in Arab localities falling to 44.6%, a historical nadir at the end of a downward trend that has been unfolding for the past two decades. Turnout among Arab voters has trailed behind that of the general electorate by at least 10% in each of the elections since 2015.

Afif Abu Much, an analyst and a contributor to the Al-Monitor and Walla news sites, told The Times of Israel that it was highly unlikely that Balad, a hardline anti-Zionist party, would clear the 3.25% threshold, even though there was a certain rise in sympathy for it among Arab Israelis, in the wake of the hotly disputed split.

The Makan poll also found that if Balad were ultimately to decide against running in the upcoming elections, then, among those currently planning to vote for it, 33% would vote for Ra’am, 21% for Hadash-Ta’al, 5% for Jewish parties, and 40% would not vote at all.

Jafar Farah, the founding director of the Arab Israeli civil society organization, “The Mossawa Center,” speculated that the rise in expected turnout found by the poll might include Balad supporters who had had reservations about supporting an alliance that includes Hadash and Ta’al, “Many people who have been angry with the coalition will this time go and vote. There were people in each party who were unhappy [with the make-up of the Joint List].”

Members of the Balad party speak to the media outside the election committee at the Knesset on September 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Muhammad Mujadaleh, a political commentator for Channel 12, wrote in an op-ed Sunday that “voices among the Arab public identify with the narrative that Balad is trying to set in place, claiming that [Prime Minister Yair] Lapid acted to break them up” — an assertion denied by Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

“In the past few days, we have seen a trend of Arab Israelis identifying with Balad. Some suspect that this trend will intensify and that Balad will reach 80-90,000 votes. That sounds a bit far-fetched, but it’s not impossible,” wrote Mujadaleh.

Depending on turnout, parties are likely to need at least 140,000 votes nationwide to meet the threshold. A strong performance by Balad that nonetheless leaves it below the threshold would likely boost former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc, since those votes go to waste.

Abu Much concurred that such “sympathy” towards Balad is on the rise. He attributed this less to ideological factors than to an emotional response by Arab Israelis who feel that Hadash and Ta’al ganged up on, and then “betrayed” their junior partner.

Balad claims Hadash-Ta’al, with Lapid’s connivance, deliberately shattered the Joint List alliance by seeking last-minute changes to their previously signed agreement. Hadash-Ta’al, by contrast, claims Balad rebuffed their sincere efforts to preserve unity.

The two chairmen of Hadash and Ta’al are clearly aware of a degree of rising sympathy for Balad, Abu Much said, as evidenced by the various damage-control radio and television interviews they have been running in Arabic. Ayman Odeh (Hadash) and Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al) have repeatedly asserted that they wanted to keep the Joint List together.

Farah pushed back on the idea that Balad was winning the battle of conflicting narratives, suggesting instead that voters are interpreting the Joint List’s break-up through the lens of their pre-existing party affiliations, a phenomenon that is being reinforced by the echo chamber of social media. “If you’re for Balad, your friends are for Balad; if you’re for Hadash, your friends are for Hadash,” Farah told The Times of Israel.

All commentators and experts cautioned, however, that, with six weeks to go before the November 1 election, a lot can happen to reshape and redistribute the Arab vote.

Three Hebrew TV polls on Friday and Saturday, in the immediate aftermath of the split, predicted that the pro-Netanyahu bloc would win 60 seats in the elections, one shy of a Knesset majority. They also showed Balad falling far below the threshold, and the two other Arab lists, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al, reaching four seats apiece, just above the threshold.

Israeli TV polls are notably unreliable, but nevertheless, often steer the decision-making of politicians.

With Israel seemingly deadlocked politically and entering its fifth election in less than four years, potential prime ministers had pinned hopes on pushing smaller parties to unite, keeping likely supporters from falling below the cut-off mark. Netanyahu succeeded in brokering several alliances between smaller factions on his side of the political spectrum. Lapid did less well, with the refusal of Labor to run with Meretz posing a risk that one or both might slip below the threshold. The last-minute splintering of the Joint List may well have created an even bigger threat to Lapid’s continued premiership.

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