Campaigning around the threshold

The question of party and voter strategy in PR systems with legal thresholds has received less attention from analysts of electoral systems than it deserves. ((See also my entry on the Lower Saxony election for the impact of a threshold on strategy.)) The impact on a party’s fortunes of individual candidates who are too low on a closed list to be elected also receives too little attention.

Here are two examples, which I offer as small correctives to these deficiencies, from the current Israeli campaign. Both are based on interviews I heard on IBA News (broadcast on World Harvest TV).

Kadima, which was the largest party in the 2009 election, but went into opposition rather than make a deal with the ultra-orthodox parties, is fighting for its life in this campaign. In 2012, the party dumped its leader, Tzipi Livni, who then announced her retirement from politics. However, once this election was called, Livni unretired and set up her own party, called Tnua (Movement). My examples come from each of these parties.

Kadima has struggled to stay above the 2% threshold throughout the campaign, meaning it could be left out of the Knesset. Recently, most polls have had it clearing, but barely.

MK Yochanan Plesner, in an interview on 15 January, claimed that internal polls showed that 7-9% of Israeli voters were prepared to vote Kadima, provided that they were confident the party would clear the threshold. Whether or not this is actually true, it is reminiscent of Gil (Pensioners) in 2006, which surprised almost everyone by how well it did on election day (7 seats), for the same strategic reason Plesner cites–only once it was clearly making it into the Knesset at all did many “floating” voters decide to vote for it. ((This might not work as well for an old (and divided and disappointing) party like Kadima as it did for a new force like the Pensioners. But the logic Plesner offers is certainly the same.))

Plesner himself is on the bubble. He has the third rank on the Kadima list, and even (public) polls showing the party winning seats usually show it getting only two. ((However, getting just two seats is unlikely for any party. Consider that 2% would be 2.4 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. Assuming some votes wasted for parties that do not make it over 2%, the votes of a threshold-scarping party likely would be closer to 3% of the total above-threshold vote. In such a case, getting just over 2% likely translates into 3 seats.))

The other interview on threshold and low-rank themes was with Alon Tal, the head of the Green Movement. Tal is a candidate on Tzipi Livni’s Tnua (Movement) list. He is ranked thirteenth, and most polls suggest Tnua will get only 7-9 seats. Thus he has little chance of being elected himself. Moreover, Israel’s Greens have never made it into the Knesset. In the 2009 election, they forged a joint list with a moderate religious party, Meimad (which had been represented in the past in affiliation with Labor), but did not even make it to 1%.

Tal, in the IBA interview, made two interesting claims (the veracity of which is not the point of this essay). He claimed that polls showed that up to 75% of voters who would like to vote for a Green party in Israel will not, because they fear it will not clear the threshold. This time, however, Tal said, the Greens will have influence over a party sure to make it into the Knesset. He said that Tnua had delegated the writing of the party’s program on environment, transportation, and other issues to the Green Movement. Of course, Tal claimed to be confident that Tnua would win at least 13 seats and he would sit in the Knesset. However the clear subtext was that even if his rank indeed was too low for him to win a seat, the deal that forged the alliance meant that Tnua was a partner of the Green Movement.

If Tal is right about Greens losing out in the past to strategic voting (and I am not in a position to judge that), there could be 2-4% of Israelis willing to vote for it, provided it were clearly getting the threshold. And if there is such a vote, it could be worth 2-5 seats or so to the Tnua list, which could explain Livni’s willingness to strike a programmatic deal with Tal; if his movement could actually deliver the votes, he himself could have an outside chance of winning a seat. Thus we can see that there is at least the potential even for candidates with a rank too low to have a solid chance of winning nonetheless to have an impact on the campaign and party program.


Other notes on the interviews with Plesner and Tal.

Plesner also said in the interview that Kadima’s campaign was emphasizing the quality of its personnel and its core policies of “security” and “burden sharing”. Its leader, Shaul Mofaz, is a former IDF Chief of Staff. The reference to burden sharing refers to the party’s involvement, during its brief membership in Netanyahu’s cabinet, in failed attempts to create a law to lift the current exemption on conscription of Haredim (ultra-orthodox). Plesner was the chair of the committee that was drafting the bill.

Tal, in his interview, spoke forcefully in favor of eliminating the orthodox monopoly on religious matters in Israel, and raising the status of women. He specifically called for granting more space to the Masorti (Conservative) and Reform streams of organized Jewish life in Israel. He noted that he is the gabbi of his Masorti synagogue, ((The gabbi is responsible for organizing the Torah reading during a service, and assisting the reader.)) and that Livni identifies herself as neither “secular” nor “orthodox” and has sent her children to Masorti institutions in Israel.

With his statements about Jewish religious pluralism, I almost felt like Tal was campaigning for my vote! (In the hypothetical world in which I had a vote in this election.) I should also note that Plesner was one of the MKs I met during my consultancy on political reform in 2010, and he impressed me. Given that he is on the bubble, according to polls, I’d almost be tempted to vote for Kadima if I had a vote. I must say, it would be strange to be a voter deciding between Kadima and the party led by the leader it expelled! That would also put me on the fence between casting a “sectoral” vote (for Tnua’s supposed commitment to organized progressive Judaism) and a “personal vote” (to boost the marginal candidacy of Plesner). Ah, cross-pressures!

19 thoughts on “Campaigning around the threshold

  1. One party I’ve seen mentioned in a couple articles as having a chance at getting seats is Eretz HaDasha, which I’m pretty sure is a very left-wing anti-capitalist party hoping to capitalize on the 2011 social justice protests.

    They could very well end up with a Gil-like rise, though they don’t have the advantage of appearing to be a safe vote. I’m pretty sure that Gil was consistently polling 2-3 seats at the close of polling, making it certain they’d get in, and then shot up to 7 in the election.

    Notably, however, Gil’s voters appeared mostly to be young people in Tel Aviv, odd for a pensioner’s party, but not odd for a protest vote. Eretz HaDasha is going after this same young Tel Aviv voter bloc.

    My bet is that this group don’t end up voting for Eretz HaDasha, but instead vote for Meretz. Polling right now indicates Meretz will double from 3 to 6 seats, but if they end up locking down much of the left-wing vote who previously could vote for parties like Labour and Kadima who had a chance at forming the government and now don’t have that vote, I think Meretz could find themselves with 10+ seats on election night.

    • Right, Gil was over the threshold in most (all?) polls in the final week in 2006. Eretz Hadasha has not been over the threshold in any polls, as far as I know.

  2. Just in case anybody gets confused: The law determining deferral of military service is called the Tal Law. But it’s not the same Tal as the Alon Tal discussed here.

    • Ah, yes, this could be confusing!

      One more: the daily prayer for dew (between Passover and Shmini Atzeret), morid ha-tal, is also not either for Alon Tal or the Tal Law!

  3. I highly doubt they will pass the threshold, but apparently they’re confident enough of their chances to not withdraw as they’d promised. My Hebrew’s awful, but the Google translate version of this seems to suggest they think they’re right on the cusp according to the polling they’ve seen ( They aren’t on the cusp in any of the mainstream polling, but I do know there have been several articles in the media about those undercounting the young, as the young primarily use cell phones while the mainstream polls use landlines. We’ll see on Tuesday if that’s the case.

    It probably won’t result in a Gil-like phenomenon, though. The only party with a chance of the “now that I know they’ll get in, I’ll vote for them” surge happening is Kadima, especially as the center-left has magnificently failed at any efforts to consolidate. Of course, Kadima is hardly a protest vote and I’d expect most protest votes on the left to go to either Meretz or Yesh Atid.

  4. At the moment (12:38 a.m. IST), Kadima is not clearing the threshold. If this holds, at 1.91%, this is probably one of the highest shares ever in Israel for a party that missed the threshold.

    Next down the failed parties list is Otzma L’Yisrael (which makes Bayit Yehudi look like a bunch of peaceniks), at 1.69%.

    Also of significance is that Hadash and Balad are both well below the threshold at this point, but maybe the locations where their (fairly concentrated) votes come from have not reported yet.

    Eretz Hadasha is on 0.8%.

    There are still a lot of votes to count…

  5. With 61% counted, Hadash has crept over the threshold (2.05%), and Kadima is getting closer (1.96%).

    Balad has moved up a bit, too, but still at only 1.67%. (I think they were at only 1.43% an hour or so earlier.)

  6. A little before 2:00 a.m., with about 61.5% reported, Kadima made it over 2%. Now, can they stay above?

    Balad is at 1.93%, so probably will be in after all.

  7. MSS: If this holds, at 1.91%, this is probably one of the highest shares ever in Israel for a party that missed the threshold.

    Not terribly meaningful, given that this is only the third election with a 2% threshold.

    It will be quite a bombshell if one or more of the major Arab parties don’t make the threshold. It might make boycott even more attractive compared to voting in future elections.

  8. According to the 2:38 AM IST update (with 62.83% of the vote counted), Balad crossed the threshold with 2.32%, ahead of Kadima, which remains just barely above the threshold with 2.09%. Meanwhile, Hadash now stands at 2.91%.

  9. Vasi, right. I mean the threshold, whatever it was at a given election. But I did not go look at past elections to confirm. It’s my recollection that the highest non-threshold party is usually more clearly below the vote share needed to enter.

    In any case, for now it looks moot, as Kadima is over 2%. But if they miss out, it will be a close call!

    Last time I checked, Balad had actually pulled ahead of Kadima slightly. But as the 972 live blogger put it, noting that military votes will be counted later, “Since Balad is not going to get any votes from the army, it needs to pull ahead in the next few hours, or it will be out of the Knesset.”

    Hasn’t Balad been in and out a few times in the past, or am I thinking of the United Arab List? It is not obvious to me why it would be a “bombshell” if they were left out. They’d be safely in if the Arab community voted at a higher rate. Interestingly, their most prominent MK, Haneen Zoabi (whose right to run was reinstated by the Supreme Court after an initial ban), made a plea the other day for Palestinian citizens of the state to vote. The Arab League also called for participation. It would be unfortunate if they did not listen and go out and vote in sufficient numbers, but they’d have their collective selves to blame.

  10. As far as I can tell, Balad has won Knesset seats in every Israeli general election since 1999, although usually within less than a percentage point from the threshold; the UAL has been in the Knesset since 1996, usually at a relatively safer distance from the threshold than Balad.

  11. In the outgoing Knesset, there are 17 Arab MKs: ten from mostly-Arab parties and seven in Zionist parties. (That’s 4 UAL-Taal, 3 Hadash, 3 Balad, 3 Kadima, and one each from Likud, Avodah, Beiteinu, Atzmaut). The new Knesset looks like it will have just two Zionist Arab MKs, from Beiteinu and Meretz. If Hadash and Balad had missed the threshold, as seemed possible given the early results, the total number of Arab MKs would have been reduced to just 6-8.

  12. Notably, despite most polling indicating a drop in seats for the “Arab” parties (and exit polling suggesting they took 8-9 seats), they actually look like they’ve gained a seat.

    Though with the caveat that you can’t publish polls in Israel the four days leading up to the election, it looks as if the Israeli media are even worse at judging turnout and voting intention (particularly in Arab areas) than the Mitt Romney campaign was.

  13. Haaretz reports that the count of the double-sealed ballots not tallied on election night will give Habayit Hayehudi an extra seat, at the expense of the United Arab List.

    I have confirmed this, and it looks like the Arab parties’ seat totals will remain unchanged after all.

  14. A statement about the relationship with the Green Movement can be found on the English page of HaTnua. It reads, in part:

    Israel faces an ecological crisis, with high air and water pollution, loss of open spaces, and decimation of national resources. Israel’s Green Movement, the country’s green party, has joined forces with Hatnua, and together they are leading an ambitious agenda of sustainability and restoration. Prof. Alon Tal, chair of the Israel Green Movement, has introduced a 25-point green program, which is now an integral part of Hatnua’s platform.

  15. “Also on Thursday, pollster Rafi Smith released findings indicating that 35% of Yesh Atid voters made their decision on Election Day, and 18% made their choice two to three days before the election. In other words, more than half of Yesh Atid’s voters chose the party in the three days before the election.

    Two-thirds of Likud Beytenu voters made their decision more than two months ago, as opposed to 26% of Yesh Atid supporters and 53% of those who chose Bayit Yehudi.

    Kadima got a boost on the final days before the election, when 41% of its voters chose the party.”

  16. I think the real reason that Eretz Hadasha stayed in the race despite their earlier promises was not that they thought they could reach 2% but that they could reach 1%.

    All parties which reach at least one percent receive at least one “funding unit” in public funding, which for the small parties often means the candidates themselves don’t lose money on their campaigns. Currently, one funding unit is NIS 1.33 million, or $360k in USD.

    While Eretz Hadasha didn’t reach that line, I’m sure the government is thrilled to have to give that money to Otzma LeYisrael (a borderline Kahanist far-right party) and Ale Yarok (“Green Leaf,” the pro-cannabis party).

  17. Pingback: Candidates on closed party lists featured in inter-party competition | Fruits and Votes

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