Is there going to be an Israel 2019b?

Today, the Knesset of Israel took the first step towards passing a bill to dissolve itself and set an early election, probably in early September. This came after Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman said he would not join an emerging government coalition that he claimed would be a halakha government. He was referring to the demands in such a coalition of the two Haredi Knesset factions, Shas and United Torah Judaism. (Halakha is Jewish law.)

It is still possible that this is all an elaborate ploy by PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his various allies to pressure Liberman into backing down. However, Liberman himself has said he welcomes new elections, and the preliminary reading of the elections bill passed with 65 votes, or exactly the number that the putative right/Haredi coalition would have if Yisrael Beitenu’s five seats are included.

In the 2019(a?) election in April, Netanyahu’s Likud won 35 seats, and the two Haredi lists 8 each. Add to those the seats of “soft right” Kulanu (4) and ultranationalist Union of Right Parties (5) and you get 60, exactly half the Knesset. These 60 seats could be sufficient to form and maintain a government, as long as Liberman and his YB do not vote against its investiture. Would they really vote with the left and Arab parties to stop its formation? It seems unlikely. Given the constructive vote of no confidence now in place in Israeli Basic Law, it would take at 61 seats to elect an alternative government in order to oust an already in-place minority government. It is even harder to imagine YB voting for any actual alternative at some future point in the life of the government. Nonetheless, Netanyahu clearly wants a majority coalition, even though pleasing all those small and essential partners would not make such a government notably more stable than a minority one.

It is also possible to imagine a flexible coalition deal in which YB is allowed to vote against the version of the Haredi conscription bill that Liberman objects to. However, the Knesset is under a Supreme Court deadline (oft-extended) to pass something to replace the current law, and it is not clear if any majority can be found for one. Yet the Haredi parties insist that the law be “fixed” to protect their constituencies from being drafted, because the reversion point is a law they dislike even more (i.e., there would suddenly be a requirement for many more enlistments from the ultra-orthodox constituencies, which is something that even the army is not exactly clamoring for).

So, unless a compromise can be struck by Wednesday, it seems the train is in motion for Israel to have two general elections in the same year for the first time in its history.

And I guess that means I’d be asked by the editors to update my chapter on the electoral system for the almost in-press Oxford Handbook of Israeli Politics and Society yet again.

Candidates on closed lists: If only Glick had been ranked higher

I do this occasional series on party lists, and how candidates can matter, even when the list is closed (meaning voters can’t vote for a specific candidate, and the order in which candidates would be elected is set by the party, prior to the election).

Here is another one for the files.

An official of the New Right party in Israel has claimed that the party would have cleared the 3.25% threshold if only one of its candidates, Caroline Glick, had been ranked in the top 4. A party that clears the threshold gets 4 seats as a minimum. Glick, a US-born author, was ranked 6th.

The official making the claim is none other than Jeremy Saltan, whose polling aggregations I referred to throughout the campaign. He was New Right’s head of outreach to English-speaking voters.

Saltan is quoted in the Times of Israel as saying, “Already during the campaign Anglos told me they would have voted for us if we put her higher.”

Further, “Saltan said the party should have emphasized that it was the only party with a US-born candidate featured prominently on its slate and campaign.”

While I would tend to be a little skeptical of a claim like this, I would not rule it out. In the final results, the party missed the threshold by a slim margin, ending up with 3.22%. So it is possible that potential Anglo voters could have stayed with the party, rather than defect to Likud (or United Right or even Zehut) had they been more confident it would clear the threshold, and that Glick would be elected.

My main skepticism is that the party was generally polling at more than 4 seats, so if anything, the fact that she was individually marginal, but the party (allegedly) was not, should have encouraged more voters, not fewer, to favor New Right if they were otherwise wavering.

Anyway, it is always good to have another one for the “candidates matter, even in closed lists” file.

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.

Israel 2019: Last few days before the election

The 2019 Israeli general election is just days away as I type this. As the campaign has developed, and as we digest the final polls, what I said back in January still looks correct in the essentials, even if some of the details have changed: The right is favored, despite its divisions, while the problem for the left is not that it is divided.

In the time since that post, of course, a new alliance formed in the center, between Benny Gantz’s Israel’s Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. It has been leading in most polls ever since. And yet, if the final polling averages are reflected in the actual result, it would be very difficult for Gantz to form a government and much more likely that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud could do so.

I will use the final average in Jeremy’s Knesset Insider to understand the likely result. This has the Gantz-Lapid alliance, Blue & White, at 30 seats and Likud at 29. We could be looking at a replay of 2009, when Kadima beat Likud by a seat, yet the overall right camp had a majority and formed the government.

The current governing parties (or splinters from current governing parties) would have the following total seats, based on this final polling average: Likud (29), United Torah Judaism (7), United Right (7), New Right (6), Shas (6), Kulanu (5). That adds to 60, which would be one short of the majority needed out of 120. However, another right-wing party, Zehut, is at 6 seats. If it would join, then the coalition has 66 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu is below the threshold of 3.25%, with only 2.9%. It is thus very much within striking distance, and if it made it, would have 4 seats (and various others would be reduced correspondingly). Some individual polls have it over. Thus Netanyahu could be in a position to choose between Yisrael Beiteinu and Zehut, or could be dependent on Zehut. The latter possibility makes be shudder, as does the fact that United Right is getting this many seats in part due to its pact with Otzma Yehudit. This would be a sharply right wing,  nationalist, government.

So, are there other options? What about a B&W government with Likud leading the opposition? It does not add up. You would need B&W (30), Labor (10), Meretz (6), Kulanu (5)–we are at 51 now–and maybe Yisrael Beiteinu if it makes it. Still short of 61. Add in the ultra-Orthodox parties (UTJ and Shas) and you are at 64 without YB. However, as I noted in the earlier post, it is hard to see Lapid and the ultra-Orthodox in the same coalition, given incompatible policy goals on religion and state, and bad blood from the recent past. Zehut leader, Moshe Feiglin, has implied he could sit with B&W, and Gantz has supposedly said in leaked discussions that he would form a government with Zehut (and the ultra-orthodox, but he may not have been speaking with Lapid’s OK on that point). In any case, it is hard enough to imagine Meretz and B&W linking up, harder still if Zehut was in there.

You might be reading this and thinking, well then, divisions on the left are a problem. More to the point, there really is not a left bloc. There are multiple center and left groups, not a coherent center-left camp. In fact, if all the center and left parties had created a single list, their seats likely would be less than the 46 that B&W, Labor, and Meretz combine for in the final polling average. By contrast, the right is divided into several parties: five or six if we count YB and Kulanu (as we should, assuming YB clears the threshold, and even though both might plausibly go with Gantz were he in a stronger position) and seven or eight when we add in the ultra-Orthodox. And this is their strength, not their weakness. They cater to many different “flavors” of right-wing politics, being in a sense more than the sum of their parts. Despite the divisions into separate parties, they are a relatively coherent governing bloc. They should be able to retain power.

One fly in the ointment would be if any of the parties in the 5-6 seats range were actually to fall below the threshold. It is possible, but probably not likely. (Kulanu, for one, seems to have stabilized recently.)

In all likelihood, Netanyahu will remain head of a right/ultra-orthodox coalition that will be even more right-wing than the last one. And this is likely even though Gantz’s list may emerge as the single largest.

Candidates on closed party lists featured in inter-party competition

A recurring theme around here is how candidates matter, even on closed lists and even in very high magnitude districts (where we might expect them to matter least).

Here are a couple of examples from the current Israeli campaign.

A recent Haaretz article by Judy Maltz notes that, “Having a Druze representative on a party ticket… has also proven helpful in bringing in votes in that candidate’s hometown.” Several examples are cited.

The back-story is that more parties than ever before are including candidates from the Druze minority this time. In recent elections, the Druze have tended to vote for right-wing parties, but there was considerable backlash in the community to the Basic Law–Nation-State, and so other parties are seeking to capitalize.

For instance, if Blue & White (the joint list of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid) wins at least 25 seats, the Knesset will have its first Druze woman. The list has been polling at 29-32 seats in recent polls, so she looks likely to be elected. If Meretz gets 5, that left-wing party will have its first Druze MK. The party has been right around 5-6 seats in most polls, although some have put it only at 4 (which is the minimum a party is likely to win, if it wins any, given the threshold).

Meanwhile, the New Right (led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, formerly of the Jewish Home party) has a candidate who has a following among English-speaking voters, Caroline Glick. She is ranked 6th. The New Right is polling at anywhere from around five to seven seats, so she is in that marginal range. Some Anglo voters may be finding the Zehut list led by Moshe Feiglin appealing (as much as it makes me shudder to realize that). A JPost article by Lahav Harkov notes:

Shaked said that “people debating between us and Feiglin should think whether they want to bring Caroline into the Knesset, or Libby Molad from the Green Leaf Party…”

The reference is to a candidate on the list of Zehut, which held an “open primary” and wound up with quite an eclectic set of candidates and issue stances. Molad is ranked 5th on the Zehut list, which has been polling above the threshold just recently in many polls, with 4-6 seats likely, if it wins any.

So Shaked of New Right is basically telling these wavering voters that they could make the difference between two individual marginal candidates, Glick or Molad.

As an aside, the cannabis issue may be on the line in this election: Feiglin recently stated he would not join a government if it did not commit to legalizing cannabis. I guess weed is the new green line in Israeli elections. According to many polls, the combined right-wing bloc may be close enough to 61 seats that Zehut could even be needed to make a coalition, although there is also a good chance it won’t be needed even if it does clear the threshold.

While we are on the topic of Feiglin, I have been using him for a few years now in various courses to make the point about the importance of candidates on closed lists. I use an anecdote from 2009, when Feiglin was still with Likud. For that campaign, he had an initial list rank of 19, which would have been good enough for a seat. But, fearing a backlash over Feiglin’s extreme nationalism, leader Benjamin Netanyahu managed to get Feiglin bumped down to the 36th slot, which was sure to be too low for a seat (the party ended up with 27 seats). Feiglin said at the time, “We all know when the Likud began to fall. The moment I was in a good spot, the Likud jumped to 40 mandates, but when I dropped,” so did the Likud. It is a fun case of a candidate claiming he could be worth some thirteen seats, if only he were in the top 20 on the list!

Finally, and slightly off-topic, my new favorite Israeli electoral rule is the one barring candidates from promising blessings for votes.

_________
Earlier this week at F&V regarding candidates on closed lists: a case from South Africa.

And, on previous elections in Israel and the role of candidates at marginal ranks representing certain groups: Personal vote/group representation in Shas list (2006); Campaigning around the threshold (2013); Marginal candidates on closed lists (2015).

Israel 2019 update: fragmentation on the right

As I noted in my initial post about the 2019 Israel election, not only is division on the left not the reason the (center-)left likely will not win, but the right is divided, too. From the excellent Twitter feed of Lahav Harkov (a journalist for the Jerusalem Post), comes this nugget:

BREAKING Former IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz is the new leader of Bayit Yehudi.

Interestingly, in Netanyahu’s response to this, he called on Bayit Yehudi to unite with National Union and Otzma L’Yisrael – aka the Kahane party. He said they need to unite so right-wing votes don’t fall under the threshold and lead to a left-wing govt being formed.

So this got me wondering, in parliamentary politics (Israel or elsewhere), how often does the leader of one party call on the leader of another party to make a pre-election alliance with yet other parties?

First case I can think of!

And, yes, Netanyahu is right to be worried about this.