Israel’s three major television networks issued updated exit polls early on Wednesday morning — this time based on actual results from the polling stations sampled, rather than surveys of voters which formed the basis for the 10 p.m. projections.
The updated results all saw the center-left bloc gaining in strength by several seats, and the Arab parties in particular rising in power to 13-15 seats in the next Knesset.
Channel 12’s amended poll showed the right-wing bloc with only 54 seats to the center-left-Arab parties’ 57. Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, who may well determine the identity of the next prime minister, held nine seats.
Notably, the new poll now had Likud and Blue and White tied at 32 seats each, while the Joint List rose from 11 seats to 13.
Channel 13’s updated poll showed an ever greater boost for the center-left bloc, now projected to win 59 seats to the right’s 53, with Liberman at eight seats. The latest data showed Blue and White leading Likud by two seats, while the Joint List rose to an unprecedented 15 seats.
Kan’s up-to-date poll also saw a two-seat gain for the center left, projected to win 56 to the right’s 55, with Liberman at 9.
The new projections made Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s situation seem even more difficult as he hopes to form a new governing coalition, though it did not give rivals Blue and White a clear path to doing so either.
A unity government between the two major parties continued to look like the most likely way out of the impasse, though Blue and White has insisted that Netanyahu must leave before such a coalition is formed.
True results began trickling in Tuesday night as votes were counted, but a clear picture was not expect before Wednesday afternoon, and some shifts could still take place over the coming days as various special ballots are counted, such as those of soldiers, prisoners, diplomats and individuals of limited mobility.
Exit polls have proven inaccurate in the recent past. In the previous election in April, the three surveys diverged wildly, with the Channel 12 one predicting Blue and White would get four seats more than Likud and the right-wing bloc would get just 60, while in reality Likud and Blue and White ended with the same number of seats and the potential right-wing bloc got 65.
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.
But with updated exit polls seen as a relatively reliable indicator of final results, Netanyahu’s quest to clinch 61 seats for the right without Liberman — the very reason he disbanded the 21st Knesset mere weeks after the last election and called a new vote — seemed increasingly unlikely.
Voter turnout on Tuesday outpaced voting levels from the elections earlier this year, bucking predictions of a drop in participation in the repeat poll. Turnout as polls closed was at 69.4 percent, up from 67.9% in April.
The closely fought election pitted Likud against Blue and White, but also offered citizens a choice of 28 other diverse political parties, 20 of which weren’t considered to have a realistic chance of clearing the 3.25% threshold needed to enter the Knesset.
The final official results are only due on September 25, giving way to weeks or even months of coalition wrangling.
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.
After April’s elections, Liberman — whose party had been thought at the time to be among Netanyahu’s automatic backers — refused to join a government led by Netanyahu unless a bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for yeshiva students was passed as is, a demand flatly rejected by the premier’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. That impasse helped trigger the new elections.
In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote, Liberman vowed to force a unity government that excludes ultra-Orthodox parties. He repeated that goal in a speech to supporters shortly before midnight.
After April’s vote, Netanyahu, who in July became Israel’s longest serving prime minister, came close to losing power when his Likud party along with its right-wing and religious allies failed to form a coalition. Rather than allow another candidate a shot at doing so, he opted for a second election by calling on the Knesset to dissolve itself.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.