January 18, 2020

Election Handbook: Can Saar Defeat Netanyahu?

Likud lawmaker Gideon Saar at the Knesset, on August 13, 2019. (Flash90)

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until next Election Day, March 2, 2020. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype.


Bottom Line 

The race within Likud is the most interesting item on the agenda. See Party to Watch below.


Main News

Schedule: The only real news is the schedule for this election. Note that many parties did not yet schedule their own internal process of forming their lists.


Date Event
December 26 Likud Primaries
January 8 Last day to register voters
January 15 Final lists of candidates
February 9 Final approval of lists
March 2 Election Day


Left Unification: The calls to unify Labor and the Democratic Camp intensify, but Labor’s Amir Peretz did not yet hint that he wants it to happen (he objected in the last election).

Right Unification: The Jewish Home and the National Union talk about unification. Otzma is expected to join the list as a separate entity. Details concerning the process of selecting the leaders are still murky.


Developments to Watch

 Arab leaders insist that they will gain more seats in the coming elections, and some polls show that they might be right. This could easily happen if more Arab voters are convinced to go to the polls.

The former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked did not yet say which party she’ll be joining this time. It can be her former ally Bennet (the New Right), her former collogues at the United Right, or Lieberman (he said he’d consider).


The Blocs and Their Meaning

The graph below presents the bloc situation in two variations: One – since the September election, two – in polls conducted in December (that is, when the indictment of Netanyahu is certain, and after new election were called).

As you can see, the changes are small, but if there’s a trend it goes against Netanyahu and the rightwing bloc. Of course, this does not mean that Blue and White are able to form a coalition based on the expected results. They’d still have to do one of three things: Compromise with Likud and sit with Netanyahu in a unity government; or convince both Lieberman and the Arabs to support their coalition; or find a party from within the rightwing bloc that is willing to defect and join them in forming a coalition. That is to say: We should not rule out a forth election.


Party to Watch

The most burning issue on the political agenda is the race within Likud between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the challenger, former Minister Gideon Saar. The vote will take place on December 26, and the stakes are high for both contenders. Of course, Netanyahu cannot lose this election and survive as Prime Minister, so a loss probably means an end to his political career. Saar can lose in a way that still makes him look like a winner and the likely hair apparent.

Likud voters must take into account many factors as they cast their votes: the tradition of Likud (sticking with a leader), the personalities of both contenders, the baggage they have, their chance of success and more. The polls give them clues but not much more than that – because polls who ask about theoretic scenarios are much less reliable than those asking about something concrete.

Still, Likud voters are surely following recent scenario polls that test what would happen if Saar will be the candidate instead of Netanyahu. What these polls tell us? Here, we present the last three of those, with two presenting one picture and the third poll a much different picture.

For each poll, we present four items: How Likud is doing and how the bloc is doing with Netanyahu and with Saar. As you can see, the first two polls (1+2) show Likud with more seats under Netanyahu and the bloc with more seats under Saar. So the dilemma for Likud voters is clear: Are you looking to maximize Likud power or to give the bloc a better chance of success.

The third poll – published on Friday in Israel Hayom – complicates Netanyahu’s position because it takes away his advantage as the leader of Likud. In other words: If Likud gets the same number of seats under Saar and the bloc has better chance of success under Saar, why vote for Netanyahu?