TV exit polls diverge wildly, heralding nail-biting night for Netanyahu, Gantz
2019 Knesset elections

TV exit polls diverge wildly, heralding nail-biting night for Netanyahu, Gantz

Surveys show many smaller parties on verge of electoral threshold, affecting question of who will be best-placed to claim premiership

Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Noam Revkin Fenton, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Noam Revkin Fenton, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As ballots closed at 10 p.m. Tuesday after a bitterly fought election day, exit polls published on Israel’s three main television channels predicted divergent results, with one outlet giving a possible slight advantage to the center-left and the other two showing the right-wing bloc far better-placed to form a coalition.

Two out of three exit polls predicted that Blue and White headed by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz would emerge as the biggest party in the next Knesset with 36-37 seats, compared with 33-36 for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. A third exit poll predicted a tie between the two parties.

The exit polls said that several small parties on both the right and the left would fall short of the 3.25% of votes needed to enter the Knesset, which could dramatically affect who will be the next prime minister.

Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut — which was predicted to get four to seven seats in recent opinion polls — wasn’t seen in any exit polls to pass the electoral threshold. Two of the exit polls also said Naftali Bennett’s New Right and the Arab Ra’am-Balad party wouldn’t be entering the next parliament, while the third exit poll predicted they would.

The right-wing bloc, made up of the current coalition parties, was predicted to get between 60 and 66 seats in the 120-member parliament. The center-left bloc was forecast to get 47-50, while the Arab parties won between 6 and 12 — a very wide gap that underlined the unreliability of the polls, amid earlier reports of low turnout among Israeli Arabs.

The divergent predictions mean Israelis will have to wait for the actual vote counts overnight and on Wednesday morning to learn whether Netanyahu will muster a majority coalition of right-wing parties or is likely to surrender his position to Gantz.

Exit polls have been proven wrong in the past. In the previous election in 2015, the exit polls saw a tie between Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union and Netanyahu’s Likud, while in actuality Likud had won six seats more than Zionist Union.

Channel 12 exit poll:

Channel 13 exit poll:

Kan exit poll:

Over 10,000 polling stations closed at 10 p.m. after a heated campaign season reached its climax with a tense election day, in which almost all parties attempted to galvanize their base by claiming they were in dire straits due to low turnout among their voters.

The closely fought election pitted Likud against Blue and White, but also offered citizens a choice of 37 other diverse political parties, 25 of which weren’t considered to have a realistic chance of clearing the 3.25% threshold needed to enter the Knesset.

The decision regarding who will be the next prime minister ultimately lies with President Reuven Rivlin, who will meet with the leaders of all the parties that cleared the electoral threshold, hear who each of them recommends as prime minister, and determine which candidate has the best chance of forming a coalition of at least 61 out of the 120 elected Knesset members.

Israel has never had a single-party government, and the next coalition, like the last one, seems certain to be a product of tense negotiations among about half a dozen parties that may take days or weeks.

President Reuven Rivlin casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on April 9, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu, Blue and White number 2 Yair Lapid and others have suggested that a gap of more than two or three seats between Likud and Blue and White could be a significant factor in Rivlin’s decision on who should get the first shot at cobbling together a government.

Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that Rivlin will choose whichever party is the biggest if no prime ministerial candidate has a sufficient number of recommendations from other party leaders to assemble a coalition, and warned that Rivlin is looking for an “excuse” to choose someone other than himself.

By law, the final election results must be published within eight days of the vote, but a spokesman for the Central Elections Committee said the counting would be finished on Thursday afternoon. All the counting is done manually, following the closing of the polling stations.

Buoyed by a tight alliance with US President Donald Trump but clouded by a series of looming corruption indictments, Netanyahu has been seeking a fifth term in office that would make him Israel’s longest-serving leader, surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion. He has served consecutively for the past 10 years, and was also prime minister from 1996 to 1999.

Voting booth in Iksal, an Arab town near Nazareth, on April 9, 2019. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

Netanyahu faced his stiffest challenge in a decade from Gantz, a craggy former military chief making his first foray into politics, who united his fledgling faction with Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party to create Blue and White.

In the campaign’s final days, Netanyahu has again played to his base and veered to the right, vowing to annex Jewish West Bank settlements if reelected and embarking on a media blitz in which he portrayed himself as the underdog and frantically warned that “the right-wing government is in danger.”

Hanging over Netanyahu is a likely indictment in three corruption cases, including one charge of bribery. Netanyahu has been rumored to be planning to condition, or tacitly link, entry to the post-election coalition he hopes to form on support for the so-called “French law,” which would shelter him from prosecution as long as he remains in office. Netanyahu has denied seeking such legislation.

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