With a just a few days till the Israeli election, it is time to analyze the impact of the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu on the campaign. The presentation of a joint list was announced in late October. There is no question that this will be the list with the most seats–by far–and thus Binyamin Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister. But can we assess how well the two parties’ merger decision has worked out thus far?
First, to what extent have the two parties campaigned as a unit?
Quite a bit. The photo above is from my TV screen during a news broadcast by DW-TV (carried on Link TV) regarding the Israeli campaign’s final week. It shows pamphlets lying on a table at a mall, one of which shows the two leaders, Netanyahu of Likud and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, side by side. Lieberman was the Foreign Minister until he had to step down in mid-December due to legal proceedings. (The legal charges have been pending for some time; there was no great surprise here.) Even the pamphlet that shows only the Prime Minister has both parties’ names at the bottom.
Here is another that shows an information booth, with a sign above it that has both parties’ names. The parties clearly retain their distinct identity, despite their having presented a joint list; they clearly have a joint campaign as well.
Second, how did they construct their merged list? Likud held a primary, which resulted in a dramatic shift in the list’s overall complexion towards the hard-line, pro-settler elements on the right. (More on this later.)
The Yisrael Beiteinu list is ranked by its leadership–meaning mainly Lieberman himself. Subsequently, the two parties combined their lists. The resulting list has as its top candidates:
3. Gideon Saar (Likud)
4. Yair Shamir (Yisrael Beiteinu)
5. Gilad Erdan (L)
6. Silvan Shalom (L)
7. Uzi Landau (YB)
8. Yisrael Katz (L)
9. Danny Danon (L)
Thus, after alternating the top four, the rule appears to be two Likud, then one YB. This matches the rough 2:1 ratio the parties have in the Knesset from the 2009 election (27 Likud, 15 Yisrael Beiteinu). The full list, with the maximum 120 candidates, is available on the Knesset’s Hebrew page. Although I do not know all of the candidates, it appears that the 2:1 pattern most likely holds through the top 40 or so candidates on the list. (The motivated reader is invited to analyze the bottom 80 of the list for conformity to the 2:1 pattern and report to us all.)
**Correction: In comment #1 below, Chris points out that #33 and #34 on the list are both Yisrael Beiteinu.
Finally, how good has the merged list been for the parties? An average of seven polls in October prior to the announced merger showed the two parties combining for 43 seats. (Note that they hold 42 in the Knesset currently.) An average of polls–thirteen in total–taken since 15 January puts the combined ticket at an average 33.6 seats. While this does not prove that it was the merger that has cost the parties 8-10 seats, there certainly is no evidence that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The candidate in position #33 is Alex Miller, a YB incumbent (who happened to be his list’s last winner in 2009). There is at least one Likud incumbent, Ayoob Kara, who may not get back in, being ranked #39. I did not immediately spot any other incumbents of either party in the marginal list ranks (by which I mean 34-42).
The loss of seats for the joint list would seem to be overwhelmingly to the benefit of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), a pro-settler list with many religious-Zionist candidates. Bayit Yehudi was polling at 4 or 5 seats in the last seven public polls before the Likud-YB merger (except one, which had it at 8). In the final week of polling, Bayit Yehudi is at 15-18 seats.
It may well be that the right-wing, religious, and pro-settler activists who essentially took over Likud in the primary have deserted the party for Bayit Yehudi, a party whose leader, Naftali Bennet, is vocally opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and who has called for Israel to apply its sovereign law over much of the West Bank.
A movement of votes from Likud to Bayit Yehudi might have happened even without the former’s union with Yisrael Beiteinu. One of the quirks of the Israeli system is that you can work to push a party–if, like Likud, it holds primaries–in your direction on the intra-party dimension by working to nominate likeminded candidates in electable ranks. Then you can work to push it your way even further on the inter-party dimension, by voting in the general election for a more extreme potential post-election coalition partner. Even if this pattern is inherent to features of the Israeli system, the secular profile of Yisrael Beiteinu might have repelled enough religious-Zionists to explain much of the bleeding of support to Bayit Yehudi.
Polling data referenced here is from Tal Scheider’s Plog site (in Hebrew).
The final polls of the campaign were released Friday (by law). The election is Tuesday, 22 January.