A television poll released Wednesday suggested the March 23 elections could end in further political deadlock, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his rivals having a clear path to forming a government.
The Channel 12 news survey also had four parties hovering around the minimum electoral threshold. The failure by any of those parties to enter the Knesset could give the pro or anti-Netanyahu bloc a slight majority.
Netanyahu’s Likud was forecast to be the largest party with 28 seats, down from 36 in the outgoing Knesset. A poll released by the network last week gave Likud 29 seats.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party picked up 19 seats in the poll, down one from last week’s survey.
The poll said MK Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party would receive 13 seats if the elections were held today, leapfrogging former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope with 11 seats. New Hope polled as high as 21 seats after Sa’ar announced in December he was leaving Likud to challenge Netanyahu, but has steadily shed support. A Channel 13 news poll released Tuesday had New Hope falling under 10 seats.
The Joint List, an alliance of three majority Arab factions, got nine seats in the survey, followed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party with eight. Fellow Haredi party United Torah Judaism and the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu picked up seven seats apiece, while the center-left Labor got six.
Inching past the electoral threshold with four seats each were Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, the left-wing Meretz and far-right Religious Zionism. Meretz had been predicted to fall short of the 3.25 percent share of the total vote needed to enter the Knesset in several recent surveys, including the Channel 12 poll last week.
The Islamist Ra’am party, which broke off from the Joint List, came just short of the threshold with 3.1% in the poll.
Together, parties opposed to Netanyahu had 60 seats, one short of a majority in the 120 seat Knesset. The poll gave Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc 47 seats, which would grow to 60 if Yamina were to join.
Asked who was best suited to be prime minister, 35% of survey respondents said Netanyahu, 20% Lapid, 12% Sa’ar and 10% Bennett. Fifteen percent said they have no preference between the four and 8% didn’t know.
Asked if they shared Netanyahu’s declared assessment that Israel has essentially put COVID-19 behind it, 24% said yes, while 71% said no.
The poll also asked supporters of Netanyahu’s bloc if they welcomed a government propped up by Ra’am, which has indicated it may back a Netanyahu-led coalition if it enters the Knesset. Fifty-five percent of these voters said no, while 28% said yes.
But 49% of respondents who back a party in the anti-Netanyahu bloc said they were okay with relying on the Joint List if its support was needed to form a government, while 43% opposed doing so.
In a Tuesday interview, Gantz appeared to rule out sitting in a coalition with the Joint List’s anti-Zionist Balad faction. Yesh Atid MK Miki Levy said that while he is uncomfortable with Balad, other Joint List factions could be part of the government, while Netanyahu ruled out Ra’am and the Joint List during an interview Tuesday with Army Radio.
The Channel 12 poll was conducted by pollster Mano Geva and had 509 respondents, with a 4.4% margin of error.
While horse-race polls are an almost daily occurrence in Israel in the weeks leading up to elections and are not seen as overly reliable, taken together the surveys can often serve as a general gauge of the political climate and where the vote may be headed.
Previous surveys have generally predicted political deadlock after the election, with no party having a clear path to assembling a majority coalition.
The upcoming elections — the fourth in two years — were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.
The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
This article first appeared in The Times of Israel, an Israeli based online newspaper.