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. Meretz has joined up with two alliance partners for this election. One is the Green Movement, which will now be headed by a defector from Labor, Stav Shaffir. She 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.

Open-list PR and the definition of antisemitism

Here’s an unexpected convergence of my interests. Open-list PR has helped lead to a Finnish organization’s adoption of the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism.

Via JPost:

The recently elected Finnish MP Hussein al-Taee, a supporter of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was embroiled in an antisemitism, racism and homophobia scandal in May. After revelations in the Israeli and Finnish media about his antisemitic Facebook posts CMI [Crisis Management Initiative] scrubbed him from its website…

Alas he’s still in parliament. His preference votes placed him sixth on the SDP list, which won 7 seats In Uusimaa district; he was a mere 63 votes ahead of the list’s first loser.

It is possible that his views may have helped him edge out other candidates and win a seat. But on the positive side, his election evidently helped increase sensitivity of the CMI to anti-semitism.

Finland 2019

The Finnish parliamentary election is today. The expectation from pre-election polling is that the center-left parties may make gains. The result may be close enough for regional variance in party strengths to matter to the outcome, as was the case in 2007. Since then, the electoral system has been modified slightly, with some smaller-magnitude districts merged. Thus regional variance should not matter as much as it did then.

The system is districted open-list PR, so candidates matter greatly, and the system permits multiparty alliance lists (which need not have the same combinations in all districts).

(A more substantial electoral reform, with nationwide compensation, was proposed after 2007. But it did not pass.)

Finally, Israel has a totally normal election

[Updated with final results]
Israel has seemingly defied the Seat Product Model in recent years, with a top seat-winning party smaller than expected, and a number of parties greater than expected, based on its electoral system. To be fair to the Seat Product Model (SPM)–and who would not want to be fair to the SPM?–in earlier years of the state, the largest party had been bigger than expected and the number of parties smaller. On average, over its 70+ years, the State of Israel is pretty close to a normal country, at least as far as the SPM is concerned. But, oh, those fluctuations! And it had been many years since it was not overly fragmented, even given an electoral system that invites fragmentation through use of a single nationwide district.

At last, 2019 produced a result over which we can all sigh with relief. Someone got the memo, and the election produce a totally compliant result!

Here are the seat totals and percentages for each of the parties that cleared the threshold.

Likud 35 29.17
B&W 35 29.17
Shas 8 6.67
UTJ 8 6.67
Hadash-Ta’al 6 5.00
Labor 6 5.00
URWP 5 4.17
Yisrael Beitenu 5 4.17
Kulanu 4 3.33
Meretz 4 3.33
Ra’am-Balad 4 3.33
120 100.00

The Seat Product Model gives us a baseline expectation from the “seat product”, which is defined as the mean district magnitude, times the assembly size. Then the seat product is raised to a given exponent, based on deductive logic as to what the outcome of interest should be expected to be, on average. In the case of the largest party, the exponent is –1/8. The largest party in the 2019 Israeli election, Likud, is one seat off the 30% (which would be 36, which actually was the number in the preliminary count), at 29.17%; the expectation is a share of 0.302=(120 x 120)^–1/8. So the ratio of actual to expected is 1.036. So just about right on target.

The SPM exponent for the number of parties winning at least one seat is 1/4, which yields an expectation of 10.95. The actual number was 11. For the effective number of seat-winning parties, the exponent is 1/6, for an expectation of 4.93. The actual value from the above seat shares works out to 5.24, which is 1.062 times the expectation.

All in all, totally normal!

So it will be fun to update the following graph for my forthcoming chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Israeli Politics and Society, and show the lines for observed values over time coming back to the expected values, which are marked by the horizontal solid line in each plot. The dashed line marks the mean for the entire period, through 2015. Vertical lines mark changes in electoral-system features other than the district magnitude and assembly size–specifically formula changes or threshold increases. (I have not yet run calculations for deviation from proportionally for 2019.)

So, how did this happen, quite apart from the strong pull of the SPM, given that everyone presumably had plenty of time to read the book, which was published in 2017?

My main answer is strategic voting, following upon strategic alliance formation. The forging of the Blue & White alliance in late February, gave the opposition at least a sense of momentum and opportunity to defeat Netanyahu and Likud. The alliance surely benefited a great deal from voters deserting other parties in the opposition in order to bolster B&W. At the same time, many voters on the right no doubt feared B&W just might win, and so defected to the strongest party in the bloc, Likud. Never mind that this sort of within-bloc strategic voting is not entirely rational–the government will be the set of parties that can reach 61 votes, whether or not that set includes the largest party overall. Voters may not understand that fully, or may expect that if one of the top two parties could be at least a few seats ahead of the other, it might be politically difficult for the second to form the government even if it was mathematically feasible.

Such strategic voting would explain why Labor did so poorly. It had been polling near ten seats, which would have been bad enough for the once grand party. But that it ended up on an embarrassing six is probably attributable to strategic defection to B&W. Similarly, Meretz’s very close scare, winning only 4 seats on 3.63% of the votes. The threshold is 3.25%.

Speaking of the threshold, one of the big stories of the election was the failure of New Right to clear it, ending up at 3.22%, despite having been at 6-8 seats in most polls throughout the campaign. That, too, may be due to strategic defection, to either Likud itself or back to the alliance that New Right leaders Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked split from, Bayit Yehudi (running within the new Union of Right Wing Parties).

The result shows two relatively dominant parties, each at 29.2%, and then a smattering of small parties. The third largest seat total is shared by the two ultra-orthodox parties, Shas and UTJ, which have just 8 apiece (6.7%). Seven other parties have 4-6 seats each. This is a result that actually makes a lot of sense for an electoral system with such a high seat product, which allows sectarian interest (different flavors of religious politics, different tendencies within the Arab minority, different strands of left-Zionism, etc.) to win representation, while still featuring two parties around which potential coalitions could form. (Leave aside for now the trouble B&W would have had forming a government even had it been a couple of seats ahead of Likud; it was still a potential alternative pole of attraction.)

In the recent past, I have felt that the low threshold–formerly 2% and even lower farther back in time–was not the issue driving fragmentation. And, in fact, the increases in the threshold in 2003 and 2015 (with the last increase actually leading to a moderately high threshold, not a “low” one) did little to bring fragmentation down, as the graph above shows. The driver of fragmentation was the absence of a real “big” party–with even Likud struggling to break 25%–and a surplus of mid-sized parties, which I am defining as parties with around 10-20 seats apiece. Well, this time the party system really looks different, with a leading party almost exactly the expected size, a second party its equal, and then a bunch of little parties. That implies that a somewhat higher threshold–either 4% or 5%–could make a difference, after all. Now would be a good time to seize the day, and form a unity government to do just that. Of course, that is unlikely to happen for various reasons, some of which I mentioned in the previous post. And high thresholds can have perverse outcomes, leading to greater risk of some relevant segment of the electorate being left out.

Speaking, still, of thresholds, I should acknowledge something about the fit to the SPM. The SPM formulas used above do not take thresholds into account. Why not? Simple. Because the formulas work without taking them into account! However, had there been no threshold, the Israeli result would have been different, obviously. Even if we assume no change in party/alliance formation in the absence of a threshold (massive and unrealistic assumption), three more parties would have won seats: Zehut (2.7%) and Gesher (1.7%), in addition to New Right. So then we are up to 14 parties, and some corresponding increase in the effective number and decrease in size of the largest.

In Votes from Seats, we propose some “first approximation” predictive models based on thresholds instead of the seat product. Given a threshold of 3.25%, these predict a largest party of 42.5% (or a little less with a “second approximation” that I will leave aside here), and an effective number of parties of 3.13. As we can see, these do not do so well on the Israeli election of 2019. So the SPM has it, notwithstanding the complication of the threshold making the SPM fit better than it might otherwise for this election.

Finally, a totally normal election in Israel.

Israel 2019 result

[Updated with final results]

The election results are final, after a couple of days of doubt about just who had cleared, or not cleared, the 3.25% threshold, and a few more days of final scrutiny (which cut Likud’s total by one seat and boosted the UTJ). The New Right, the party formed by Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked when they bolted from Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), came up just short of winning any seats. With 3.22% of the vote, the party now joins the list of contenders for nearest miss of all time in any country with a nationwide threshold.

Meanwhile, one of the two Arab lists in this election, Ra’am-Balad, which many polls showed falling below the threshold, just made it, with 3.34%. Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut (build the Third Temple now and smoke dope!), which was the sensation of the latter part of the campaign with most polls showing it well above the threshold, came in at only 2.73%. I don’t usually ascribe great impact to specific campaign stunts, but his appearance on a comic show just before the election was one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen a politician do. Could it have cost him votes of wavering voters who had mistakenly thought he was a serious politician?

The contest between Likud and the opposition alliance, Blue & White, would have been exciting if only there had actually been more at stake. Two of the three exit polls showed B&W ahead, but there was not much doubt that Likud would be in a better position to form a coalition than B&W, even before the two parties pulled even. Then, in the final results, Likud pulled ahead.

The votes for the top two were 26.45% for Likud and 26.12% for B&W. In seats, Likud has the edge, 36-35.

Taking all the parties in the government at the time the election was called, we have results for the new Knesset (which has 120 seats total) as follows:

Party/alliance 2019 2015
Likud 35 30
Shas 8 7
UTJ 8 6
URWP 5 8
Kulanu 4 10
total 60 61

The table compares the results with 2015; the number for URWP (Union of Right Wing Parties) for 2015 refers to Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), which, minus New Right, is the main component in the new Union.

At first glance, this looks like potentially bad news for current PM and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. However, if he comes to agreement with Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), the total rises to 65. YB won 6 seats in 2015 and will have 5 in the new Knesset.

Bargaining with YB leader Avigdor Liberman is never easy. He joined the government some time after it was formed following the 2015 election. (One of those elected in 2015, Orly Levy, defected when the party joined the government.) He also left the government about a year before the term was up, in November, resigning as Defense Minister and bashing Netanyahu for being too soft on Hamas. That move left the coalition with just a bare majority of 61 seats and was one of the things that precipitated the election being held early. Shortly after the polls closed, Liberman stated that he would not recommend anyone for prime minister when the various faction heads meet with the president, who then is obliged to assess who has the best chance of forming a government.

Even if Liberman were to remain in opposition–and he may simply be playing hard to get–it would not necessarily prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. There is no requirement for 61 affirmative votes. And there is no way that Liberman is going to vote with the left and Arab parties for an alternative. However, with or without Yisrael Beitenu, it may be another relatively unstable government.

The other possibility, of course, is a coalition of the top two parties–a so-called “unity” (or dare I say “grand coalition“?) government. An “unsourced report” says this is under consideration. I say we consider this spin until proven otherwise. On the other hand, we should also take with a grain of salt the statement by Yair Lapid (no. 2 in Blue & White) that he is “personally opposed to sitting in a government with Netanyahu.” At this point, most of what is said, either by leaders in public or by various unnamed sources, is just part of the bargaining process.

A Likud-BW coalition would be quite a letdown to voters who voted for B&W because Gantz told them over and over again how the most important thing was to kick out Netanyahu. Still, I do not think we should assume it is completely ruled out till we see how the bargaining among the right-wing parties unfolds.

As far as specific candidates elected, there are some interesting developments. Israeli lists are, of course, closed. So when a party or alliance list performs at the outer limits of what is expected, some candidates may be elected whose personal attributes or social-group ties were part of the reason for their being given a marginal rank in the first place. Both Likud and Blue & White outperformed the pre-election polls. With 35 seats, B&W elects a candidate who was the country’s first openly gay mayor (Eitan Ginzburg, of Ra’anana), who was #32 on the list. In fact, the number of LGBT members hits a record high, with five, who also include Idan Roll and Yorai Lahav Hertzano, #34 and 35 on the B&W list. In addition, B&W elects Gadi Yevarkan (#33), an Ethiopian immigrant.

Likud’s over-performance elects two additional women from a party list that had only two in its top ten and just a few more in the top 30: May Golan (#32 and an anti-immigrant activist) and Osnat Mark (#35, already in the Knesset since last year). (One of the most interesting will be Keren Barak, who had a safe slot at #24. Click the link to see what I mean.)

With only four seats, Meretz failed to elect its first-ever Druze candidate, Ali Salalha, who was ranked #5. I have not checked city-level results to see if Meretz dominated the vote in his home town of Beit Jann, as was expected due to his candidacy. But it was not enough for an extra seat. Meretz’s vote share was 3.63%; the next largest list was able to win five seats, with 3.70%. So Salalha may not have missed by much. (Meretz also had an Ethiopian immigrant, Mehereta Baruch Ron, a deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, at #6.)

The party formed by Orly Levy Abekassis (the YB defector mentioned above), Gesher, was a big flop. It won only 1.73%. Her social policy emphasis had looked like it could win 5 or as many as 8 seats according to polls through much of last year, but it faded rapidly once the campaign really got underway. She should have struck a deal with B&W. It might have netted them a couple more seats, although even then, a B&W-led government would have remained out of reach, most likely.

I’ll be back with more later about the aggregate outcome.

French President Macron mentions some “level of proportionality”

President Emmanuel Macron of France has launched a “Great Debate” in response to weeks of protests. Euronews prints a translation of the president’s open letter setting out questions to be debated.

The main themes are taxation and public spending, the organization of the state and public services, ecological transformation, and democracy and citizenship. Of particular interest to F&V is the president’s asking what might be the “right level” of proportional representation in elections to the National Assembly. This question has been debated before, and was supposed to be part of Macon’s platform, although the answer to the question of the “right” level seemed to be not much. Now, at least, it is open to debate, although it is not clear how any opinions expressed during this Great Debate will find their way onto the government agenda.

What follows is an excerpt related to issues of democratic reform.

Should absentions be recognised? Should we make voting compulsory?

What is the right level of proportional representation in parliamentary elections for a fairer say to be given to all political perspectives?

Should we, and how, limit the number of parliamentarians or other elected officials?

What role should our assemblies, including the Senate and the Economic, Social and Environmental Councils, play in representing our territories and civil society? Should we transform them and how?

In addition, a great democracy like France must be able to listen more often to the voice of its citizens.

What changes do you want to make citizen participation more active, democracy more participative?

Should unelected citizens, chosen at random, have greater and more direct involvement in public decision making?

Should we increase the use of referendums and who should decide on how and when?

 

For the upcoming Israeli election, divisions on the left are not the problem

Israel’s general election has been set for 9 April. This election is both “late” and “early”. The term is four years, and this election will be more than four years after the last election (which was in March, 2015). Yet under Israel’s Basic Law provision on election dates, the date for 2019 could have been as late as November. Nonetheless, the Knesset passed a bill in late December setting the election date.

All indications, at least for now, are that the Likud and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, will remain at the head of the government following the election. Polls put Likud far ahead of the second party, which in many polls is a new entrant, Israel’s Resilience, founded by former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz. The real question is who will be the coalition partners. Both the governing “nationalist camp” and the opposition feature numerous parties, as usual, but also splits, including several new entrants since the election was announced.

There is often poor understanding of how Israeli politics works. To a degree, that’s understandable, as it is a complex political scene (and society). However, there is really no excuse for a major publication like The Economist getting it as wrong as it did in its 3 January edition.

The author of the piece shows a poor understanding of the dynamics of proportional representation and parliamentary government, mistakenly claiming that the center-left could win if only it were not divided into so many different parties. I want to use this claim as a foil, and illustrate why it is so mistaken.

Basically, the reason there are so many parties in Israel is two-fold: there are real socio-political divisions and there is a quite extreme proportional-representation system. Because of the high proportionality, divisions within a potential governing bloc are quite unlikely to be the reason such a bloc fails ultimately to end up in government. (Yes, there is a moderately high threshold that can cause some wasting of votes. We will come back to that.) A government needs to command the votes of one more than half the Knesset (61 of 120); no party will win a majority (none ever has), and so the process of forming a government is one of post-electoral bargaining. Whoever can get 61 votes in the Knesset (assembly) forms the government. A minority government–tolerated by some Knesset parties that don’t have a formal governing role–is theoretically possible, as it almost always is in a parliamentary democracy, but highly unlikely in Israel.

The Economist claimed that Netanyahu could be defeated if only the opposition would unite. The premise is based on two observations; they are true as far as they go, but that is not very far. First,

Under Mr Netanyahu, Likud has never received more than a quarter of the national vote. Yet it has dominated Israeli politics with the help of smaller nationalist and religious parties.

Second,

Were [opposition parties] running as one they would probably gather 40% of the vote, overtaking Likud.

The idea of a united center-left overtaking Likud is plausible, although 40% could be a stretch. Based on the aggregation of recent polls, all the opposition parties, not including Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List, come to an estimated 45.5 seats, which would be about 38%. So if all those parties formed one alliance list, they might get close to 40%. Moreover, is not out of the question that Yisrael Beiteinu (YB), which left the government in November, could join a center-left coalition. Even if they get to 40%, however, getting to the 61 seats needed for a majority remains a stretch. For one thing, it is virtually impossible to construct coalition scenarios around the Joint List being in. (The reasons why would be a topic for another thread; the short version is they would not accept if invited to join a governing coalition, which they won’t be.)

The problem is that this 38% or 40% might still not be enough, absent either a polling shift (or substantial error) in their favor or the defection of some party from the current bloc of governing parties, other than YB. If the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties joined them in government, that would be another 11.7 seats on the current polling estimate. So if we take the current opposition (minus Joint List), and add in YB and the two Haredi parties, we are at 45.5 + 4.5 + 11.7. Look, we made it to 61.7! A very bare majority, if the polls are spot-on. But not so fast.

While the Haredi parties have governed with left parties before, the broad center-left alliance the Economist is imagining includes at least one party that would be highly unlikely to go into government with the Haredi parties. Yesh Atid, currently polling at 12.7 seats, has as one of its core reasons for being the diminution of ultra-orthodox religious privileges in society; it successfully kept the Haredi parties out of government when it joined a coalition after the 2013 election. It is hard to imagine it agreeing to sit in a government with the Haredi parties (and vice versa). In fact, one of the reasons for the election being called when it was is that the government–again–failed to resolve the Haredi military draft issue, as required by the Supreme Court. It would not be any easier for a center-left-religious coalition to handle. Such a coalition could also be a problem for Meretz, which is a highly secular, left-wing party. YB, which gets most of its votes from the Russian community, is also closer to Yesh Atid on these issues, because of the official rabbinate’s rejection of many Russian immigrants’ Jewish status, although it has sat in nationalist-religious coalitions before, obviously.

Thus we see here already a reason why the Economist’s explanation for why the left won’t unite into a single alliance–“But none of the party leaders is prepared to serve as number two”–is insufficient. The opposition contains not only differences over who should be its leader, but also real divisions over what should be the course of action of the next government. A lot of the divisions may be personalities, but by no means all of them.

Nonetheless, let’s take the claim at face value. Let’s assume that there is an opposition alliance that, upon uniting, somehow not only does not lose any substantial share of its current voters because of pre-election compromises it has to make, but also is able to attract some voters from the right. It ends up with 48 seats (40%), while Likud has only 30 (25%). Is the most likely government–even with such a board alternative pre-electoral coalition able to start bargaining with the other parties–still one led by Likud? Yes, probably.

While it seems somewhat implausible that a pre-election alliance with 40% would be kept out of power if it was really 15 percentage points ahead of the largest list on the other side, any scenarios that have the center-left forming the next government have to get over the parliamentary arithmetic and real political issues mentioned already before they should be taken seriously.

Moreover, it is not as if the divisions on one side are occurring in a vacuum in which the other side does not exist or know what is happening. If, somehow, the center-left united and was polling at 40%, the right surely would respond with alliance-making of its own. While the various personalities in the smaller right-wing parties and in Likud clearly have a fair amount of contempt for one another, they arguably have fewer unbridgeable policy divisions than the center-left. In other words, if they were faced by a genuine threat of a united center-left, they’d almost certainly construct a more united right. We have seen it before: Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu put together a pre-election alliance in 2013, in part out of concern that Yesh Atid might surpass Likud in seats. While there is no procedural advantage to the largest party or list (just ask Tzipi Livni about the 2009 result), there is nonetheless political value in being first, or at least in not too far behind. Already, there are rumors that Likud and current center-right partner Kulanu may be negotiating a joint slate. (On current polling, that would combine for 34.3 seats, or just under 30%.)

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that, regardless of which list gets the most votes and seats, the government will be the one that can assemble a coalition consisting of at least 61 seats. And the simple fact is that advantage in votes falls to the broad right, not the left. There is no sense in which the divisions on the left are preventing it from winning. This is a proportional system, and so divisions are not costing any potential bloc seats, as they would in a majoritarian system.

But, hold on, what about that threshold? Is it possible that the left could deprive itself of seats because some of its parties fall below the threshold? If that happens, then it does indeed waste votes and potentially displace some seats to the right. So, yes, it is possible. The threshold is 3.25%, and at least one party on the center-left is below that (Livni’s HaTenua). However, Livni clearly is going to take part in some new alliance, now that she has been booted in an especially insulting fashion out of the Zionist Union that she formed with Labor before the 2015 election. Besides, this was not a claim the Economist piece made; it does not even mention the threshold.

One new party that has entered, Gesher (headed by current MK and YB-defector Orly Levy-Abekasis) is perilously close to the threshold. However, it is rather likely it will end up joining some pre-electoral bloc. There is also the newly registered party, Telem, of former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has declared he will not sit in a coalition with Netanyahu. Lists, including any alliances, need not be finalized till late February. (And, yes, this will be a general election in more ways than one.)

Moreover, it is not only the left that has to worry about the threshold. Netanyahu was sufficiently worried to propose lowering the threshold before the election. This was after the Knesset had passed the bill to set the election and “disperse” itself, but before the split in one of his current nationalist governing partners, Bayit Yehudi. The effort on the threshold failed, but it shows that it is not just the opposition that has divisions that could cost it.

The remnant of Bayit Yehudi is currently below the threshold. With 2.8 seats, it is about 1.2 short (the 3.25% threshold means usually the minimum size of a party in the Knesset will be 4 seats). It will probably align with one or more other very minor ultranationalist parties, but even in such an alliance, it could still be left out.

The defectors from Bayit Yehudi, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, have formed a party to be called New Right. It is currently on 8.8 seats. It will seek to cement the Judea & Samaria settler vote and others opposed to any territorial concessions (helped by recruiting Caroline Glick to the list); it will remain a natural partner for Likud even as it seeks to differentiate itself both from Likud and from Bayit Yehudi. Yet even without the remnant of Bayit Yehudi passing the threshold, the current coalition partners are at about 59 seats. So now we are up against one other critical fact of the Israeli party system: there are various parties on the center-left that would be willing to join a Likud-led government. In fact, of all the parties on the center-left (not counting the Joint List, which will not be in any government), the only one I am sure would not join Likud is Meretz, and if we take Ya’alon at his word, whatever list he is on won’t back Netanyahu. (As mentioned before, it is also hard to see Yesh Atid in a government with the Haredi parties, but the party has been in a Likud-led coalition before.)

It just very hard to see a realistic scenario for a non-Likud government, absent a major shift in public preferences. Note that I have not even mentioned yet the legal troubles facing Netanyahu. Could that lead to a shift towards the center-left? Maybe. But don’t count on it. More likely, were the PM to be faced with charges before the election, he’d lose some votes to New Right. In fact, that could even be one of the reasons Bennett and Shaked made their move: their new party and its emerging platform could appeal broadly on the right in a way that the hardline orthodox religious (but not Haredi) components of Bayit Yehudi never would have.

To summarize, divisions on the left (or right) will not keep a camp from winning its full seat potential. Yes, if a party needed for the bloc to form a coalition majority falls below the threshold, that could displace seats to a rival bloc. However, parties that are at serious risk of not reaching 3.25% are likely to ally with other parties. It does not matter if the entire center-left unites; it still has less support in the public than the nationalist camp, and thus the latter would remain in stronger position to form a government. Moreover, it is not even clear that a united center-left would gain more votes than the separate parties can win, given the real divisions they reflect. To some degree this is true on the right, too (see the 2013 Likud Beitenu case), but the right is more cohesive as a potential (and current) government. Things could change between now and the election, but I would not count on it. Scenarios in which the current opposition will be the next government need a more credible story in their favor than just that the opposition needs to be more united.