Yoav Fisher
Father, Economist

Bibi’s Win by Default – the Data behind the Elections

In the days and weeks following any election, pundits go wild explaining the results, offering assessments and theories.  Here in Israel, following the unforeseen results of the election this week, punditry is rampant.  Some of this is insightful and illuminating, some is speculative, and some is downright illogical.

Instead of endless political analyses, we can take a deep dive into the hard data to uncover some interesting reasoning behind Netanyahu’s unforeseen success.

All of the detailed results of the election can be downloaded (2015 here and 2013 here), and after some number crunching and analysis, the data shows two main reasons why King Bibi, and Likud, pulled out a surprising victory.

To begin with, the traditional Right-wing block of parties (Likud, HaBayit HaYehudi, and Israel Beiteinu) had an only 3% increase in voter count, significantly less than all the other blocks.  The Arab block increased the most, with 27% more voters than in 2013.  The traditional Left-wing block increased by 17%.

So how is it possible that Bibi and Likud took the day if the Right Block, as a whole, remained fairly flat as compared to 2013?

There numbers point to two major factors.  The first is shifting allegiances within the right wing parties.  This was evident even when the notoriously faulty surveys came out at 10pm on the day of the vote.  Bennet and Leiberman, and their respective parties, dropped dramatically as compared to 2013.  HaBayit HaYehudi, for example, lost over a third of their supporters in the course of two years, equivalent to over 100,000 votes.

Another element that is nominally less significant, but equally as interesting, is the unprecedented move of religious voters away from their traditional bases of Shas and Yahadut VeTorah to Likud.  In fact, in a number of notable cities, like Tveria, Ashdod, Sderot, Ashkelon, and Ramle, voter turnout for traditional right wing parties was significantly higher than in 2013, and turnout for traditionally religious parties was down.

Together this indicates not an ideological shift, but a strategic shift, amongst right wing voters.  The hard core ideological supports of Bennet and Leiberman remained, but a significant amount of voters were panicked enough by the thought of losing to the Left that they chose to switch parties and endorse Bibi, giving Likud an extra 11% of voters as compared to 2013.  This effect also happened with religious voters, thought to a lesser extent.  Political pundits in Israel have supported this theory with anecdotal evidence on the ground as well.

The second major factor that explains Bibi’s victory is the Left’s perpetual inability to connect with the so-called “Middle Class” of Israel.  A number of prominent cities, including Bat Yam, Be’er Sheva, Akko, and Eilat, show negligible changes in the amount of left voters, but a huge increases in centrist voters.  In Be’er Sheva, for example, the seventh largest city in Israel, the left wing gained a paltry 142 additional voters, roughly an additional 1% from 2013.  In the same time period, the Centrist parties of Yesh Atid and Kulanu gained nearly 5000 voters, up 44%.

The sense is that the left wing, Labor specifically, has been unable to engage centrist voters in recent years.  Yair Lapid stepped in to fill this void a little over two years ago, bolstered with the recent addition of Moshe Kahlon.  Even though there are numerous overlaps between the Center and Left, there are also gaps that are too big to overcome from the perspective of the voters, and the Left has failed to connect with disgruntled Centrists.

Taken together, the data reveals a different narrative for the recent elections.  It is not that Bibi and Likud “won” the election, it is that Herzog, Bennet, and Lieberman lost it.

Some other interesting findings from the data:

Top three most left-leaning cities:  Kfar Tavor, Tivon, and Ramat Hasharon.  Tel Aviv is 8th highest, with 48% of voters supporting Labor or Meretz.

Top three most right-leaning cities:  Kiryat Arba, Efrat, Karni Shomron, all of which are in settlements.  We don’t move out of the settlements until number 7 on the list, Sderot, at 70%.

Top three most centrist cities:  Dalyat El Carmel, Ussfiya, and Hurfesh – interestingly all Druze.

The most homogenous cities are either religious or Arab-Israeli, like Umm el Fahm or Beitar Illit.

The most notable heterogeneous city is Haifa, the best example of religious/ethnic/economic coexistence in Israel.

Jerusalem showed no noticeable change in voting patterns between 2013 and 2015, and all parties showed a respectable increase in voter turnout.

(If anybody is interested in more deep-dives into the data, feel free to ask questions in the comments).

About the Author
Yoav Fisher lives and works in Israel.
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