Traditional Israeli Jews Have ‘Decisive Influence’ Over Election, New Analysis of 2020 Vote Finds
A new breakdown of voting patterns in the last Israeli parliamentary elections highlights the key role played by so-called “traditional” Jews — a cohort that’s often pegged as Likud voters, but appear to be more conflicted and, likely, more easy to shift ahead of the next elections, according to an analysis released Thursday.
Carried out by the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), the analysis focused on Jewish voters who participated in the March 2021 Knesset elections, and found that levels of religiosity were strongly correlated with political preference. It relied on the self-identification of voters into five major religious subdivisions, as outlined by the Central Bureau of Statistics: Haredi, national-religious, traditional-religious, traditional non-religious, and secular.
In general, Haredi Jews adhere to a strict Orthodox lifestyle and may have a more ambivalent relationship with Zionism and the state. The national-religious cohort, in contrast, largely maintains Orthodox practice but engages with secular society and is often strongly Zionist. Traditional or masorti Jews often straddle the religious and secular divide by maintaining some degree of Jewish practice, with varying levels of religiosity. The final cohort of secular respondents is characterized by its relative lack of religious observance.
The survey found that those of greater religiosity favored the bloc led by now opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, which included the former prime minister’s Likud party, Haredi parties, and the nationalist Religious Zionism party.
An overwhelming 96 percent of Haredi Jews voted for the Netanyahu bloc in the elections, as did a smaller majority (63 percent) of national-religious voters. A sizeable minority of the latter camp (27 percent) favored Yamina, the party then led by Naftali Bennett, which was not seen as a definite part of either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs. Only nine percent voted for the anti-Netanyahu bloc.
Support for the Netanyahu coalition dipped to 48 percent among voters who identify as traditional, with 37 percent voting for the anti-Netanyahu bloc and 14 percent for Yamina. Among the secular, only 17 percent backed the Netanyahu coalition, with 76 percent voting for the competing bloc.
Yamina ultimately formed a tenuous governing coalition in June 2021 with the anti-Netanyahu bloc, which included left-wing and Arab parties. Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid signed a rotation agreement to helm the coalition as alternate prime ministers, with Bennett serving in the top office for a year before ceding his position when the coalition collapsed this past June. Lapid will continue serving as caretaker prime minister until elections are held in November.
In breaking down these results, IDI focused on the impact of the traditional sector, noting that it is the only one “in which no clear and strong majority for a specific camp can be identified.”
According to a 2020 survey by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, some 33 percent of the Jewish population identifies as traditional, while 45 percent identifies as secular, 12 percent as religious, and 10 percent as Haredi.
The findings of the analysis “are especially surprising when considering the assumed correlation in public discourse between the traditional sector and the Likud party,” noted IDI. While the most popular party among the cohort was indeed Likud, the four parties that followed it in popularity — Yamina (14 percent), Yesh Atid (11 percent), Blue & White (10 percent) and New Hope (8 percent) — did not belong to the Netanyahu bloc.
Looking forward, the findings underscore that traditional voters “have a decisive influence over the results of the election,” noted IDI. “While among ultra-Orthodox, religious-nationalist and seculars there is a clear preference for one of the camps, the traditional public is in-between the two, which, most likely, makes it easier for this sector to shift between the different parties.”
The analysis comes as a survey of prospective voters published by Israel’s Channel 13 on Thursday found that, for the first time in a long stretch, the Netanyahu bloc of Likud, Religious Zionism, and the Haredi parties drew 62 mandates — enough to form a governing coalition.
According to the poll, were elections held today, Likud would gain 35 mandates, while Yesh Atid led by Lapid would receive 21 — down three mandates from a previous survey carried out by the channel.
Blue and White-New Hope and Religious Zionism would each get 12 mandates. Shas would gain eight, one more than United Torah Judaism. The Joint List and Labour would win six mandates each, while Yisrael Beiteinu would be accorded five, and Meretz and Ra’am would get four each, just passing the electoral threshold to get into the Knesset.
The new party Zionist Spirit, led by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, would fail to enter the Knesset with only 2.8 percent of the vote.