South African vote and census data

The following is not my post. It is a comment by Manuel on an earlier post. It is so interesting in its detail, that I thought it deserved to be “promoted” to a central place in the virtual orchard.

A few weeks ago I finally included on my website’s South Africa page the results of last May’s election; I also took the opportunity to run some correlations between the election results and South African census data. Initially I worked at the level of the country’s 213 local municipalities, where I found a very high inverse correlation (-0.90) between the DA share of the vote and the black African percentage of the population in the 2011 census; that figure remained at -0.88 when census figures were substituted with data from the 2016 Community Survey.I also found a very high correlation at the municipal level of 0.90 between the share for the right-wing VF+ (whose vote increased noticeably in the election) and the percentage of Afrikaans-speaking whites over the total population in 2011 (0.91 when using 2016 Community Survey data).

In fact, the municipal-level results of last May’s election showed that in municipalities where the population is 95%+ black African (on average 98% black and 1% white), the DA vote came down to about 5%, behind EFF and even IFP, while ANC remained far ahead with 70% of the vote; the exact figures vary depending on whether 2011 or 2016 population figures are used for the analysis.

However, for good measure I ran the correlations at the electoral ward level – the lowest level for which both election results and 2011 detailed population statistics are readily available (the 2016 Community Survey data doesn’t go below the local municipality level). There are currently a total of 4,392 wards in South Africa, and at this level the inverse correlation between the DA share of the vote and the percentage of black Africans was even stronger, standing at -0.93. Meanwhile, the correlation between the VF+ share of the vote and the percentage of white Afrikaners over the total population remained at 0.90.

In addition, clear voting patterns emerged when wards were grouped by race majority (or plurality): DA won handily in majority white, Coloured or Indian/Asian wards, but dropped to single digits and came behind EFF in majority black African wards, where ANC won a sweeping victory (95% of black South Africans live in majority black wards, while 74% of Coloureds and 61% of whites reside in majority Coloured and white wards, respectively; the majority black wards are 93% black, while the majority Coloured wards are 75% Coloured and the majority white wards are 63% white; the majority Indian/Asian wards are 64% Indian/Asian, but only account for 38% of that group’s overall population).

Separately, I also tested a fifth, “no race dominant” category (no racial group over 50% and second largest group at or above 25%), but I found it made little difference in the results for the other groups. Overall, the “no race dominant” category was plurality black with a sizable white minority not far behind, as well as substantial numbers of Coloureds and Indians/Asians. In the election that additional category went solidly for DA, although by considerably less than the combined non-black majority (white-Coloured-Indian/Asian) wards, while ANC didn’t do nearly as well as the increased percentage of blacks (relative to the non-black group) would have suggested; on the other hand the EFF vote appeared to be largely in line with the increase in the percentage of blacks.

Speaking of EFF, in an earlier comment I had compared its result with that of the far-right HNP in the 1981 white House of Assembly election. However, after going over ward figures grouped by race on a province-by-province basis that assessment needs to be qualified. Even just looking at the majority black wards, EFF remained at best below 20% and nearly fifty points behind ANC; by contrast, in 1981 many National Party MPs were horrified to see their HNP challengers – who usually polled in the single digits – rack up 30% of the vote, and in some cases even more. As such, EFF isn’t quite yet as strong a challenger to ANC on the left – even among blacks – as HNP was to NP on the right among Afrikaners back in 1981, but that could change in the years ahead.

In fact, a far more apt analogy with the rise of HNP in 1981 among Afrikaner voters would be precisely the substantial vote increase for VF+, which had its best showing in majority white wards, where it won 11% of the vote; it fared poorly elsewhere, polling just 2% even in Coloured wards, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact it had Peter Marais, a former Cape Town mayor, Western Cape premier and notorious party hopper as its Western Cape candidate for premier (Mr. Marais has switched parties over half-a-dozen times in the past twenty-five years). In fact, the low VF+ share in Coloured wards was strongly correlated (0.84) to the 6% white minority (mostly Afrikaners) living in those wards. Moreover, within the majority white wards there was a wide gap in VF+ support between wards where whites were predominantly English-speaking, and those where they were mainly Afrikaans-speaking: VF+ polled just 3% in the former but reached 15% in the latter. The latter figure rose to 23% and 24% in the white majority wards of the North-West and Limpopo provinces (25% and 23% in the provincial ballot), where the white population remains overwhelmingly Afrikaner. This turn of events may well be a South African manifestation of the worldwide surge of the populist right, but also the recurrence of a historical phenomenon among Afrikaners, or a combination of both. In any event, earlier this summer VF+ went on to win by a landslide (albeit on a low turnout) a municipal by-election in a Stilfontein (City of Matlosana) ward where it had narrowly outvoted DA in the May provincial ballot.

There were also fairly evident voter turnout differences among the four ward groups: white majority wards had a far higher turnout rate (78%) than black- or Coloured-majority wards (65% in each case) or Indian/Asian majority wards (68%).

Finally, the ward-level election results show two very different South Africas co-existing side by side: one comprised by wards where black Africans constituted at least 95% of the population (on average over 99%), in which ANC swept the election on a 63% turnout with 73% of the vote, far ahead of EFF (13%), IFP (5%) and DA (4%); and another made up of wards in the rest of the country, where black Africans constituted 49% of the population, Coloureds and whites 22% each and Indians/Asians 6%, and where DA prevailed over ANC, 42% to 38%, with EFF polling 8% and VF+ 5%, on a 70% turnout rate.

Fruits and Votes in Battersea

It is far too rare that the two themes of this blog intersect so nicely. Here is a tidbit from my checking of the Wikipedia page about Battersea constituency (related to research, for real).

In 2001, the candidate T.E Barber used the candidate description “No fruit out of context party”, and advocated the end of, amongst other crimes against food, pineapples on pizza.

He got 1.1% of the vote!

Israel is about to have a very unusual ‘b’ election

Israel is about to hold its second election of 2019, and it will be unusual, relative to other cases of a second election within a year elsewhere. While the number of lists winning seats is likely to go down, other indicators of fragmentation are likely to go up.

Using the National Level Party Systems Dataset (Struthers, Li, and Shugart, 2018), I performed calculations to find out how the standard indicators of party-system fragmentation change from a first election that fails to produce a “stable” government or any government at all, leading to a second election. I looked at all cases in the dataset in which two elections were held in the same Gregorian calendar year, plus all cases where an election is in the second half of a year and followed by another in the first half of the next year. The first table below gives the full list, including the first and second election in each sequence. In one case in the dataset (Greece, 1989-1990) the second election was followed by yet another within a year, indicated by a “3” in the final column. Note that a country’s data sequence begins in the early post-WWII era or when a country democratized and ends in 2016, so any cases outside that timeframe are not included.

country year date mo within_yr_seq
Denmark 1953 4/21/53 4 1
Denmark 1953 9/22/53 9 2
Denmark 1987 9/8/87 9 1
Denmark 1988 5/10/88 5 2
Greece 1989 6/18/89 6 1
Greece 1989 11/5/89 11 2
Greece 1990 4/8/90 4 3
Greece 2012 5/6/12 5 1
Greece 2012 6/17/12 6 2
Greece 2015 1/25/15 1 1
Greece 2015 9/20/15 9 2
Iceland 1959 6/28/59 6 1
Iceland 1959 10/25/59 10 2
Ireland 1982 2/18/82 2 1
Ireland 1982 11/24/82 11 2
Japan 1952 10/1/52 10 1
Japan 1953 4/19/53 4 2
Japan 1979 10/7/79 10 1
Japan 1980 6/22/80 6 2
Moldova 2009 4/5/09 4 1
Moldova 2009 7/29/09 7 2
Spain 2015 12/20/15 12 1
Spain 2016 6/26/16 6 2
Sri Lanka 1960 3/19/60 3 1
Sri Lanka 1960 7/20/60 7 2
St. Lucia 1987 4/6/87 4 1
St. Lucia 1987 4/30/87 4 2
Thailand 1992 3/22/92 3 1
Thailand 1992 9/13/92 9 2
Turkey 2015 6/7/15 6 1
Turkey 2015 11/1/15 11 2
UK 1974 2/28/74 2 1
UK 1974 10/10/74 10 2

The list contains 17 cases of an election within twelve months of the preceding one. Not a large sample; fortunately, this sort of thing does not happen very often. (There are 1,025 elections in the sample.)

If elites and/or voters “learn” from the experience of bargaining failure or lack of stability from the first election in such a sequence, we would expect the second to be less fragmented. We can test this by looking at mean differences between the second election and the first. The indicators I have are the number of parties (or lists, more precisely, counting an independent as a “list” of one) that win at least one seat (NS0), the effective number of seat-winning lists (NS), the effective number of vote-earning lists (NV), the seat share of the largest party (s1), and the vote share of the largest party (v1). The first three should go down if there’s an adaptation occurring, while the second two should go up (i.e., the largest party gets bigger).

Here is what we see from the results, reporting the mean differences:

NS0: –0.215

NS: –0.098

NV: –0.469

s1: +0.010

v1: +0.0035

In terms of raw direction, all are as expected. On the other hand, the number of lists winning seats hardly budges (recall that the first number is the actual number, not “effective”), and the effective number on seats changes much less than the one on votes. The implication is that fewer votes are wasted in the second election, as we would expect. On the other hand, the seat share of the largest party–the single most important quantity because it determines whether there is a single-party majority and if not, how far from majority it is–rises by a very small amount, on average. That is partly due to most of these systems being proportional, so large shifts should be unusual. The complete list of elections and their indicators is provided in an appendix below.

As far as statistical significance is concerned, only in NV and v1 is the difference significant (NV at p<0.03; v1 at p<0.10), when comparing these “second” elections to all others. (This is not meant to be a sophisticated test; I am not comparing to a country baseline as I really should.)

We might expect that the first election in such a sequence is anomalously fragmented, hence the need for a second election to calm things down once again. That is also supported, for NV and v1 again, but also, crucially, for s1.

Now, how might the Israeli second election of 2019 compare? We can use the polling average from Knesset Jeremy (using the poll of polls from three weeks before the actual election), and compare to the actual results of 2019a (the first election in the sequence) and the previous election (2015). Also included in the Seat Product Model expectation.

measure 2019b (poll avg) 2019a actual diff 2015 diff SPM expected
NS0 9 11 –2 10 1 11
NS 6.04 5.24 0.801 6.94 –1.70 4.93
NV ? 6.33 ? 7.71 –1.38 5.24
s1 0.258 0.292 -0.034 0.25 0.042 0.3
v1 ? 0.2646 ? 0.234 0.031 0.289

For the number of lists that look likely to clear the threshold, we have the direction expected: currently there are 9 likely to win seats, compared to 11 in April. In turn, the April figure was one seat-winning list higher than in 2015. However, in terms of both NS and s1, the case is anomalous. All indications are that the largest party will be smaller than it was in April, which also will drive up the effective number. Moreover, these measures in April were less fragmented than they had been in 2015; that is, the first election of the 2019 sequence was not unusually fragmented. Quite the contrary; I called it a “normal” election at the time for a reason.

So the Israeli sequence of two elections in 2019 is unusual indeed.


Below are two tables. One has all the “second” elections, and changes in the various measures. The second has all “first” elections. In each case, the comparison is just to the immediately preceding election (not to all other elections), so we can see how much short-term fluctuations were affecting the process in each sequence.

Elections ocurring within one year of previous, compared to previous results
country year mo diff_Ns0 diff_Ns diff_Nv diff_s1 diff_v1
Denmark 1953 9 1 -0.2199998 -0.1000001 0.014 0.009
Denmark 1988 5 -1 0.0100002 0 0.005 0.005
Greece 1989 11 1 -0.0800002 -0.1700001 0 0
Greece 1990 4 5 0.05 0.0700002 0.005 0.017
Greece 2012 6 0 -1.07 -3.75 0.07 0.108
Greece 2015 9 1 0.1490002 -1.19 -0.014 -0.008
Iceland 1959 10 0 0.24 . 0 .
Ireland 1982 11 -1 -0.01 0.03 0 0
Japan 1953 4 . 0.8099999 0.8999999 -0.088 -0.091
Japan 1980 6 -8 -0.3999999 -0.24 0.074 0.033
Moldova 2009 7 1 0.8699999 0.27 0 -0.048
Spain 2016 6 -1 -0.3700004 -0.7999997 0.04 0.043
Sri Lanka 1960 7 . -1.22 -2.52 0.166 0.032
St. Lucia 1987 4 0 0 -0.1099999 0 0.007
Thailand 1992 9 0 -0.0999999 0.0999999 0 0.017
Turkey 2015 11 . -0.322 0.03 -0.126 -0.089
UK 1974 10 -1 -0.01 -0.02 0.028 0.021
Election that is the first in a series of two within a year, compared to preceding election
country year mo diff_Ns0 diff_Ns diff_Nv diff_s1 diff_v1
Denmark 1953 4 0 -0.1300001 -0.0900002 0.013 0.008
Denmark 1987 9 0 0.27 0.5799999 -0.009 -0.023
Greece 1989 6 1 0.26 0.1400001 -0.044 -0.006
Greece 2012 5 2 2.24 5.79 -0.173 -0.25
Greece 2015 1 0 -0.6700001 -0.77 0.067 0.066
Iceland 1959 6 0 -0.28 . 0.035 .
Ireland 1982 2 -2 -0.05 -0.1699998 -0.039 0.009
Japan 1952 10 . . . . .
Japan 1979 10 -1 0.1199999 -0.2199998 -0.002 0.027
Moldova 2009 4 1 0.1400001 0.1600001 -0.079 0.035
Spain 2015 12 -3 1.93 3.23 -0.18 -0.159
Sri Lanka 1960 3 . 1.456 2.26 -0.206 -0.043
St. Lucia 1987 4 -1 0.55 -0.0800002 -0.295 -0.049
Thailand 1992 3 . . . . .
Turkey 2015 6 . 0.4320002 0 0.002 0.005
UK 1974 2 2 0.1900001 0.6900001 -0.05 -0.077


“Winnowing works”–or does it?

I keep seeing political scientists–among those who focus on the US case–using a hashtag that says, “winnowing works”. It has got sufficiently under my skin that I decided to rant about it just a little. Honest, just a little.

I take it they are indicating that it is a good thing that the process set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has led to several presidential precandidates dropping out already. Sure, in that sense, winnowing works–by definition. That is, the field is smaller than it was a few weeks ago.

But is it working at the task that is presumably the one we should judge it by–producing a strong nominee? I have my doubts. I have very serious reservations about the current top three (Biden, Sanders, Warren). This is (somewhat) independent of their specific policies or track records. They are all old, and each one brings some significant baggage or potential problems with electability.

Maybe I am just unhappy that candidates I disliked less than the rest of the field, like one emphasizing an issue that should be front and center and was one of the few governors in the field (Inslee), one I just happen to find appealing (Booker), or one who seems especially well positioned to win Great Lakes area states lost in 2016 (Klobuchar) are all languishing. But that’s the point. Some of these currently lesser know candidates might have been better choices (Inslee is already out). But they have been, or likely soon will be, winnowed out months before anyone actually casts a vote.

The DNC is doing something very strange here. On the one hand, it continues to pander to the insistence of certain small and unrepresentative states to go early in the process of voting, on the theory that voters seeing a candidate up close are better able to make choices than the rest of us. On the other hand, it has created these big media events (“debates” is not really an appropriate term) and qualifications based on national polling and contributors, which make mass-media name recognition especially important. Am I wrong to see this as a fundamental contradiction?

There are many, many things I do not like about the US process of presidential selection. But I am just not convinced that winnowing is working at delivering a good nominee, vetted by actual voters whether in little states or the Democratic electorate at large.

Some quitters and trying-harders (Israel 2019b)

Some updates on parties in the Israeli election (happening 17 Sept.):

Moshe Feiglin, the leader of Zehut, says he may be quitting the race. He has met recently with PM Netanyahu about some promises for taking up the Zehut issues of cannabis legalization and more “libertarian” economic policy, plus a possible administrative post. Despite the promises he may get, any offer on policies or posts if he does quit should be seen as cheap talk. Without seats (which, to be clear, no poll shows he can get if he stays in), he will have no leverage. Moreover, if there are not the seats in the Knesset for a narrow right-wing government, Netanyahu won’t be able to follow through on this deal even if he sincerely wants to.

Orly Levy-Abecassis, the leader of Gesher, says she will quit politics if the list she is running on, the Labor-Gesher alliance, fails to get more than the 4-6 seats indicated by most polls. That’s a strange vow! She is ranked second, so she is assured of returning to the Knesset (her party, running separately, won none in April), unless the list somehow fails to get even 3.25% of the vote. On the other hand, it is clear that the alliance already has failed, in a sense. Labor alone won 6 seats last time, and Gesher’s votes would have been worth 2 seats had it cleared the threshold. So the combined list is less than the sum of its parts. Of course, losing a key part of what was the Labor party, with Stav Shaffir and others defecting to the Democratic Union, has to be hurting a lot.

The Joint List, consisting of Arab parties, is running ads in Hebrew in attempt to boost votes from leftist Jews unhappy with the center-ward drift of both Labor and Meretz. As far as I know, this is a first. They supposedly are hoping for 1-2 seats from Jewish voters. I have doubts that this is realistic; it seems rather optimistic. Meanwhile, the leader, Ayman Odeh, said he would be open to joining a center-left coalition. I believe that is also a first. It also is unlikely to happen; indeed, Blue and White (which would be the leader of any such government) quickly poured cold water on the idea. Odeh listed conditions in his statement; Benny Gantz (B&W leader) countered with his own conditions. In both cases, the conditions are unlikely to be acceptable to the other party (although they do not strike me as extreme in any sense). For that matter, Odeh evidently was not speaking for all the parties in his alliance in opening the door to government participation, as there were denunciations of the idea from within. Anyway, perhaps the door is very, very slightly ajar for cooperation, but don’t count on it.

Israel 2019b: Grouping the parties, relative to 2019a

As readers of this blog are sure to be aware, Israel is soon to have its second general election of 2019. The election in April did not result in a governing coalition being formed, and so the Knesset dissolved itself and set a very early election for 17 September, giving us election 2019b. That’s almost here!

A little time has passed now since the final lists of candidates were submitted, which is also the process through which parties may forge pre-electoral alliances with other parties, presenting a common list.

In what follows, I want to review the parties by groups, by which I mean either formal alliances for this election, or just parties/alliances with affinities for others in terms of ideological placement or demographics. I will compare the number of lists in these groups (some of which are a little arbitrary) to what we saw in the April election. In each group, I will indicate how many separate lists there were in April and how many there are for September.

Likud and close buddies

2019a: 2

2019b: 1

Keep this in mind when looking at polls and comparing to April: Likud, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, won 35 seats in April’s election. However, in this election, its list includes Kulanu (Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s party, which first ran in 2015). So we have to compare Likud this time with Likud+Kulanu last time. Combining them, they won 39 seats in April. Thus polls showing 30-32 seats for this next election indicate a substantial weakening of Netanyahu’s position.

Haredi parties

2019a: 2

2019b: 2

Nothing changes here. United Torah Judaism and Shas (Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredi parties, respectively), are both running again. Bibi’s favorite partners.

Farther right: Ultranationalist

2019a: 2

2019b: 1*

Before the April election, two of the leaders of Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) split off and formed a new party, New Right (HaYamin HeHadash), led by Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked. They failed to clear the 3.25% threshold, leaving only the list that included the rest of what had been Jewish Home (rebranded Union of Right Wing Parties, or URWP) to win seats in the Knesset.

For the September election, they are together again. Somewhat surprisingly, the hardline religious (but not-Haredi) parties inside Jewish Home accepted a woman, Shaked, as the leader. The new-old list is now called Rightward (or To the Right; Yamina). The list has been polling at around 10 seats, a significant increase on what they had in April, though in fact steady support given URWP’s 6 and what would have been New Right’s 4 had they not just missed the threshold.

The asterisk above is that we could count another list for 2019b, but it is not likely to get seats. I am referring to Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit), the Kahanist (read: racist) party that was part of the URWP in April, due to controversial deal brokered by Netanyahu. Otzma is running separately this time (it initially announced an alliance with an even more fringy party, Noam, but that fell apart.)

(There was also a Bayit Yehudi candidate who was given a slot on the Likud list in April but will not be this time; it must be because of this candidate that Knesset Jeremy indicates 38, rather than 39, for Likud+Kulanu in comparing seats at the last election to current polling.)

Center-something and hoping for “unity”

2019a: 2

2019b: 2

Here I am referring to both the Blue & White list, headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, and Yisrael Beteinu (YB), headed by Avigdor Liberman. Blue & White remains intact, despite its internal difficulties. It tied Likud in April with 35 seats, and is generally running even or 1-2 seats behind Likud-Kulanu this time (so 29-31 seats). Are they center-left? Center-right? Just center? Beats me. Basically, they are the “we are tough guys who can take over from Bibi” alliance.

Liberman is often classified as hard right, and in terms of security, he certainly fits that description. However, his party has always been more strictly secular than others on the right, broadly defined. If we have to do the “left-right” thing, that makes him pretty left on the religion–state dimension. Whatever he is, it was his refusal to (re-)join a Likud+ultranationalist+Haredi coalition that led to there being a 2019b election. He has called for a “unity” (grand coalition) government. So let’s put him in the “center”. In any case, the number of lists remains the same in this grouping. Yisrael Beteinu is polling around 10 seats. That would double the April result, suggesting that his effort to raise the salience of the secular issue by not rejoining the Bibi bloc earlier this year is paying off.

As a bonus, and an indicator of their likeminded positions, these two have signed a surplus agreement. These agreements allow two lists to pool votes for purposes of calculating the D’Hondt quotients for seat allocation (as long as both clear the threshold). An agreement can often result in an additional seat for the combine, which usually will go to the larger list in the agreement. In an election in which one seat might make a difference, that’s not a trivial or mere “technical” matter. (The two parties did not have such an agreement with one another in April, when YB had a deal with New Right.)

Zionist old left and new partners

2019a: 3

2019b: 2

Two left-wing parties that won seats in April, plus another party that did not; two alliances now. There is quite some significant reshuffling here. The two seat-winning lists in April were Labor and Meretz, and both had pretty bad results. Labor did especially badly, coming in with only 6 seats, despite having been the main component of the second largest list overall and leading opposition alliance, Zionist Union, in 2015 (and in older history, the main governing party). Meretz won only 4. Both were thus facing risk of extinction, and so they got rather creative.

Labor changed its leader (yes, again), choosing Amir Peretz (yes, again). It then formed an alliance with Gesher, led by Orly Levy. Given that Gesher emphasizes social concerns, like cost of living, it is not wrong to classify it as left. But it seems more than a little odd. Levy was originally a member of the Knesset for Yisrael Beteinu, who split off to sit as an independent when Liberman took the party into the government some months after the 2015 election. She formed a joint list with Labor in early August, under the slogan, “People First“.

Meretz is now in an alliance that is known as Democratic Union. The leader is Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz. The alliance partners are two new groupings. One is a splinter from Labor, led by Stav Shaffir, who was among the leaders of the 2011 social protest movement who then became a Labor MK. She was also one of the leadership contenders in Labor just this past June, when she lost to Peretz. Now she is the second candidate on the list of the Democratic Union. The other component is a new party called Democratic Israel, set up by Ehud Barak (yes, again); the former PM and Defense Minister is ranked only tenth, and looks somewhat unlikely to win a seat.

The Democratic Union list also includes a prominent Reform Rabbi, Gilad Kariv (ranked 11th; he had run with Labor in April, but was ranked at a very unrealistic 25th), and Yael Cohen-Paran, the first Green Party MK. Cohen-Paran entered the Knesset in late 2015 as a member of Zionist Union (after initially being the first loser, at rank #25); she is ranked 8th this time and thus is in a potentially realistic slot.

(Yes, the facts in that last paragraph would be sufficient for me to vote for this list, if I had a vote. Speaking of Shaffir, she has a really inspiring video about why young people should go into politics, as she did. And also an excellent recent democrat-to-Democrat video.)

Non-Zionist left/Arab parties

2019a: 2

2019b: 1

Yes, the Joint List is back. The various Arab and non-Zionist parties had formed the alliance prior to the 2015 election, the first one with the higher threshold. They then split prior to April’s election into two separate lists (both of which won seats, though it was a rather close call for Ra’am-Balad). They are back together, and are shown as getting 10-12 seats in most polls. That could place them third (as they were in 2015, with 13) or fourth (depending on how well Yamina does).

So there you have it. Six groups (as I defined them), which accounted for thirteen different lists in April, down to nine for this election (or ten if we count Otzma). It is almost as if the politicians learned the lesson from the fragmentation and bargaining stalemate of 2019a. Even so, polls consistently suggest that Likud+Haredi+Yamina will probably remain short of the 61 seats needed for a majority, while once again a center-left majority coalition is also not likely to be possible.

Bibi is worried

By way of Raoul Wootliff (Times of Israel correspondent), on Twitter, every candidate on the Likud party slate for this September’s election, down to spot 40, agreed to put their name to a statement declaring no Likud MK other than Netanyahu can be PM after the election.

He then quotes it in full:

We, the undersigned, Likud candidates for the 22nd Knesset, emphasize that we will not be dictated by any other party. Regardless of the election results, PM & Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu is the only Likud candidate for PM – and there will be no other candidate. Gantz and Lapid, who head a dictatorial party [Blue & White] and have elected themselves and their members, are the last who should be preaching morality to Likud – the largest and most powerful democratic party in Israel. Lapid & Gantz, who are constantly working against each other, and Labor which changes chairmen every two weeks, can only envy Likud members who stand behind the party chairman. Their frustration is understandable: the plot to replace Netanyahu after the election finally collapsed today.

From my perspective, the really amazing thing is not the letter, but that the party felt the need to do it. It is standard in parliamentary coalition negotiations that the prospective partners do not get to dictate other parties’ personnel.

I interpret this as meaning that Bibi is worried about another bargaining impasse like the one following the election in April. Such an impasse might lead to internal pressure on him to resign, in order that the party can form a “unity” government with Blue & White leaders Gantz and Lapid.

While the candidates’ signing such a statement shows the hold Netanyahu has on his party, there is no sense in which it would bind them after the election, should the results again leave a narrow right-wing government short of a majority.