Young Israelis want Netanyahu, older ones Gantz
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Young Israelis want Netanyahu, older ones Gantz

Pre-election poll by Israel Democracy Institute finds a quarter of Israelis fear election cheating, Arabs much less likely to follow election news than Jews

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes a selfie with a soldier during an event for lone soldiers in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes a selfie with a soldier during an event for lone soldiers in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is Israelis’ preferred candidate for premier over rival Benny Gantz, but not by much, a pre-election survey by the Israel Democracy Institute has found.

Netanyahu is favored by 42.5 percent of Israelis, while Blue and White leader Gantz is preferred by 40.5%.

But Netanyahu’s great advantage lies in his appeal among the young, the poll found. The older the age group polled, the more likely they were to prefer Gantz.

Among Israelis 65 and older, Gantz beat Netanyahu 53% to 35%. Among those 18-24, however, Netanyahu beat Gantz by a nearly 50-point margin of 65% to 17%.

In the 25- to 34-year-old group, Netanyahu wins 54%-33%. Among 35- to 44-year-olds, Netanyahu wins 64%-24%, while in the 45-54 and 55-64 age bracket, Gantz edges ahead at 48%-46% and 47%-41%, respectively.

A poll released April 3, 2019, ahead of the April 9 Knesset elections shows Israelis’ preferences for prime minister according to age group. (Gutman Center of the Israel Democracy Institute)

The survey, by the Guttman Center at the Israel Democracy Institute, found widespread concerns among Israelis about the validity and cleanliness of the election.

Just over half the public, 51.5%, doesn’t trust election surveys, a finding that perhaps explains why many voters, especially for smaller parties closely identified with a particular ideology or community, say they plan to vote for their party regardless of its projected chances of passing the 3.25% vote threshold.

In all, 61% of Jews and 52% of Arabs said they would vote for their preferred party irrespective of poll numbers.

That commitment was especially high among voters for the Russian-speaking right-wing party Yisrael Beytenu (83%) and voters for the Islamist and Palestinian-nationalist alliance of Ra’am-Balad (80%). It was also high among voters for Meretz (69%).

In a troubling finding, over one-quarter, 27.5%, of Israelis said they don’t trust the “integrity” of the Knesset elections. The figure is much higher among Arabs (39%) than Jews (25%). Only some two-thirds of Israelis, or 65.5%, say the results “will accurately reflect the public’s vote.”

Benny Gantz, center, leader of the Blue and White faction, speaks to a woman during a meeting with members of the Druze community in the city of Daliyat al-Karmel on March 7, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

When the poll drilled down into reasons for the distrust, it found concerns about forgery, bias among those counting the ballots, and worries about foreign intervention.

Among the one-quarter who do not trust the election to be accurate, 54% feared duplicate or forged ballots would be employed on election day, 52% worried about foreign interference, and 44% and 30% feared that either local ballot committees or the Central Elections Committee, respectively, would skew the final count in favor of members’ biases.

The survey found that Arabs are much less likely than Jews to closely follow or engage with political news ahead of the elections. A plurality of Jews, 33%, said they consume political news about the elections several times a day, compared to just 10% among Arabs. The largest number of Arabs, 37%, said they only read news about the elections once a week, compared to just 7% of Jews. Among both groups, an identical share, 8%, say they do not read media reports about the elections at all.

The poll also asked about some issues on the public agenda.

It found that two-thirds of Israeli Jews, or 66.5%, said Israel was “too lenient” in dealing with the Gaza border violence that has been a recurring phenomenon over the past year. The gap between Jews and Arabs is huge, with just 8% of Arab Israelis saying Israel was too lenient.

The gap was reversed among those answering that Israel’s response was “too harsh.” Fully half, 48%, of Arab Israelis said Israel was responding too aggressively, but just 4% of Jewish Israelis agreed.

A small but roughly equal number, 19% of Jews and 14% of Arabs, said Israel’s response was appropriate.

Central Election Committee workers prepare materials to be sent to polling stations ahead of election day, March 6, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Partisan feeling was borne out in findings about Israeli views surrounding accusations of corruption aimed at Netanyahu. Most of the public, 52%, does not believe Netanyahu’s claims that he “didn’t get a shekel” from a German-Egyptian submarine deal he approved. Just 38% (45% of Jews and 9% of Arabs) believe Netanyahu.

But his believers are heavily concentrated among his supporters. On the left, 92% don’t believe Netanyahu. In the center, 91% say the same. On the right, the figure plummets to 27%.

The survey was conducted March 24-25 by phone and internet with 603 respondents “who constitute a representative national sample of Israel’s adult population aged 18 and over,” the survey said. The margin of error is ±4.1%, at a confidence level of 95%.

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