Campaign effects vs. ‘fundamentals’–Israel 2015 edition

There is a controversy within political science about the relative importance of campaign events versus “fundamentals” (whatever those might be in a given contest). There certainly is a literature on this matter in the American politics field. I do not know if there is for Israel, but apparently there should be.

An article in Al Monitor that appeared just over a month before the 17 March, 2015, election claimed that the “rotation” deal between Isaac Herzog and Tipi Livni, as heads of Zionist Camp, had hurt the center-left’s chances of winning the election. A typical quote, regarding the role of “highly respected advertising executive Reuven Adler”, called in “to rebuild the image of Zionist Camp Co-Chairman Isaac Herzog”:

Adler had thought that Livni exacerbates all of the weaknesses of Herzog, who from the outset was never perceived by the public as a strong leader. After all, he lacks charisma and a dominant personality. He looks delicate, and his voice lacks gravitas. In Adler’s mind, the very fact that Herzog agreed to a rotation agreement only intensified perceptions of him as a weak, docile individual who succumbs to pressure. Worst of all, it showed him as someone aware of his weakness.

…Adler was left out of this discussion, and an enthusiastic Herzog-Livni campaign soon hit the streets. Herzog’s Labor Party remained silent as long as the polls showed the Zionist Camp with a slight advantage over the Likud.

The article is full of claims like this–focusing on events and leadership choices, and suggesting that in the final month the Zionist Camp will push Livni into the background in order to try to regain a campaign momentum that it has been losing.

What is wrong with all this? The polling trends offer scant evidence for it. At least as best I can see.

Israel 2015 poll trends

The above (click on it for a larger version, although even then it is hard to read) is from J-Stret’s election blog. From the time of the agreement on the rotation deal (around Dec. 10) until late January, the Zionist Camp and Likud trade places and are quite steady. Perhaps both are rising a bit, and Zionist Camp even reaches 26 seats briefly in late January (as does Likud). From early February until the end of the sequence of this graph (Feb. 22), Zionist Camp is right around 24 seats. In the election, it won… 24 seats. So, just when the campaign is supposedly in this crisis and needs to push Livni to the background, there was no change in its actual performance with voters. Likud, on the other hand, shows more volatility in February, but was on an upward trajectory, it appears. As we now know, it indeed was moving up, and ended up on 30 seats, although most of that surge appears really to have happened in the final days, due to desertion of the farther-right parties.

It is hard to look at the polling trends and conclude that the campaign tactics and evaluations of Herzog’s leadership qualities were a major factor. That is, other than the agreement on the pact itself, which does seem to have shaken things up, and moved Labor+HaTnua into the 22-25 seat range, where it stayed all the way to the actual election.

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