Joel Taubman
There are lies, damned lies, and statistics

Final Polls: A Political Solution Is Still Needed

Ballots during the September 2019 Knesset Election (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Ballots during the September 2019 Knesset Election (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The final polls came in before Shabbat and most are probably wondering what’s changed since the April and September elections. Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are each still short of a viable coalition in every single poll. It seems like the gridlock will never end.

Meanwhile, news organizations including The Times of Israel continue to write horse-race style polling headlines that are little more than clickbait to boost readership. The latest claim (here, here, and here) that Likud and the Joint Arab List are surging cite only one or two polls. Two? Seven polls were released on Thursday and Friday alone, with even more earlier in the week, most of which don’t support such strong conclusions.

The True Meaning of the Final Polls

The chart below clears that media clutter. It averages all seven of those polls, the final one from each of the seven pollsters active this election. The added benefit of the averaging process is that it helps to dilute errors from any one polling agency. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do for possible herd affects if all the pollsters are making the same mistake. That problem would stay a secret until after the election. In any case, the picture we get looks like more of the same from past elections.

Average of the final polls from each pollster for the March 2020 election (with possible coalitions)

There are two significant differences between these possible results and those from last September. One is a slight drop in the Center-Left-Arab bloc. The dip is too small to give Netanyahu a path forward without Lieberman or Gantz. However, the drop is huge if it proves true, because it makes Gantz’s coalition with Lieberman and the Joint Arab List impossible.

The Joint List supporting Gantz from outside a coalition using a Canadian-style minority government was floated after September. Muddled statements from Lieberman, various Arab party heads, and others means it hasn’t been ruled out completely.

But, if that bloc can’t reach 61 excluding the more radical Arab Balad party, then that option will be gone. Balad couldn’t even stick with the rest of the Joint List to nominate Benny Gantz for Prime Minister last election. There is no way a coalition can depend on them for a majority. Thus, the magic number is 64 given the almost definite 3 Balad seats within the Joint Arab List. Only the last poll by Channel 13 has that magic 64 and the average of the seven final polls is at 62.4. With this path gone, the remaining political options would be unity or Lieberman back on the right.

Election Exhaustion

The other significant difference from prior election results is that all of us are tired of elections. This was true before, during the coalition negotiations after September. However, now that fatigue is affecting the political prospects of the one man who can end all of this: Avigdor Lieberman.

After the poor 5 seat performance of his Yisrael Beytenu party in April 2019, Lieberman parlayed his position as kingmaker into 8 seats in September. He promised that he would force the unity coalition excluding the religious Haredim, something that half of Israelis want. Now, the strengthened Yisrael Beitenu is slipping and Lieberman doesn’t even want to talk of pushing unity.

September 2019 election results with possible coalitions

If the polls are right, voters are starting to punish Lieberman for failing to make a unity government happen between Bibi and Gantz. If he fails again, that drop to 6 or 7 seats would only continue downward in the fourth election.

Lieberman’s political career is likely long from over, but he needs to ensure that one of the two available political solutions succeeds. If he can’t do that and pick up a decent ministry position in the process, his star will continue to fade. This powerful incentive is great news for all the weary voters.

Many things can still happen. Polls are not great at predicting last minute surges and flops in turnout among major groups like Haredim and Israeli Arabs, among other groups. At the same time, averaging polls has made decent predictions of the size of major blocs in past elections. Time will tell.

Bonus:

Below is my prediction for the exact party totals. Below that are all seven of the final polls referenced in this post, one from each pollster, for your viewing pleasure.

JT’s March 2020 election prediction with possible coalitions
Final poll from each pollster in the March 2020 election (Otzma polling under 3.25% needed)
About the Author
Enthusiast of Israel, Polling Data, American Freedoms, and UVa Basketball. Live and work in AZ.
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