Marginal candidates on closed lists: Israel 2015 edition

Do party leaders use personal characteristics of candidates they recruit to their closed lists as a way to attract voters to the list? If the objective is to mobilize voters who might not otherwise have strong incentives to vote for the list, the strategy we might observe is the nomination of candidates associated with particular groups (or partnering parties) to marginal ranks–a rank at which the party is likely to be on the cusp of winning or losing. I pointed out such a strategy in the Israeli election of 2006, when Shas nominated representatives of the Ethiopian and Georgian immigrant communities to the 12th and 13th ranks. The party had won 11 seats in the 2003 election and would win 12 seats on 2006; there were indications that the party indeed received votes from the two communities.

How common are such marginal-ranks personal-vote strategies by parties? I wish I knew! I do have another data point from Israel, however: this year’s Zionist Union list.

The Zionist Union (or Zionist Camp) list was formed by the merger, for purposes of this election, of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua party. Although Labor holds a member primary, the joint-list agreement gave Livni the right to nominate candidates to various positions on the list. One of these was position #24.

On January 25, it was reported that the 24th spot would go to Yael Cohen Paran, “one of Israel’s leading environmentalists for the past two decades”. She is one of the leaders of the Green Movement party.

By nominating Cohen Paran, Livni has maintained her agreement with the Green Movement, whose leader Alon Tal was given the 13th rank on Livni’s HaTnau list for the 2013 election. The list won only six seats, so Tal was not close to winning, but Livni’s manifesto commitment to focus on the environment was upheld in various ways, most prominently by claiming the Environment Ministry for one of her MKs, Amir Peretz.

Of course, I can’t prove that Cohen Paran received this specific list rank for this campaign because of her ability to bring additional votes. It is possible, however, given the past record of Livin-Green cooperation. It is especially noteworthy that in the week immediately prior to the announcement, the Labor-HaTnua list was averaging just about 24 seats in the polls, meaning Livni controlled what could be the most marginal rank on the list. If there is a bloc of potential votes, and a candidate who might appeal to such a bloc, and the nominator was strategic… let’s just say Livni behaved exactly as a hypothesis about personal votes for marginal ranks on closed lists might predict.

7 thoughts on “Marginal candidates on closed lists: Israel 2015 edition

  1. To what extent do Israeli parties (still) use internal primaries to choose their candidates? I know Labour and Likud introduced internal primaries in the 90’s, and I think Bayit Yehudi and Meretz do as well; I know Kachlon hand-picked his list, and I’m pretty sure Lapid and Liberman do the same.


    • Lapid and Lieberman (and now also Kahlon) certainly do the “hand-pick” procedure.

      So, to be clear, the point I was making about exploiting the marginal ranks can work only in a party or alliance that (1) has a leader (or small collective body) determine candidates and their ranks, or (2) has set-aside slots for leader discretion that happen to align with a likely marginal rank.

      Obviously, the Zionist Union falls into #2. I am going to surmise that when they negotiated the #24 slot as one for Livni they had a reasonable idea that such a slot would be neither safe nor hopeless.


  2. Likud, Labour and Habayit Hayhudi all hold closed primeries (i.e. open to all paying party members but not to the general public) which determine the identity and rank of candidates in their respective Knesset list. However all of them reserve some slots for outside candidates, usually picked by their leaders, sometimes pending some party panel approval. Meretz elects its candidates in the party council (or convention as it is called, though this is in fact a continuous body and not an ad-hoc one). I think the Communist party (or rather Hadash, which includes the Communist party as a key member) did the same, for selecting canidates for the slots reserved to it on The Joint List (the combined list of arab and radical left parties). All other parties have moved away from, or have never held, any sort of internal competition to select their candidates for the Knesset. Instead selction is made by party leadership in a mostly non-public process.


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