Israel 2019b, compared to 2019a

Here, following up on the earlier discussion of post-election bargaining scenarios, I want to compare Israel’s two elections of 2019 on several statistical measures. The 2019b (September) results are not quite official yet, but are very unlikely to change other than in the smallest of voting detail.

The table below compares the votes for Netanyahu’s “Bibi bloc” of right-wing and Haredi parties, by various definitions, as well as the indicators of fragmentation: effective number of parties by seats and votes, total number of lists with seats, and the seats won by the largest list. For each measure, there is a comparison of change from April to September. The final three columns refer to output of the Seat Product Model (SPM) for the indicators of fragmentation–what is expected from the model (given an assembly size of 120 and district magnitude also of 120), and ratios of the actual indicators to the expectation.

Measure April Sept change SPM expected Ratio, April Ratio, Sept.
Bibi bloc (percent votes) 48.7 44.5 -4.2
… plus YB 52.7 51.5 -1.2
… plus Otzma 46.4
… plus YB & Otzma 52.7 53.3 0.6
Effective N, seats 5.24 5.67 0.43 4.93 1.06 1.15
Effective N, votes 6.33 6.11 -0.22 5.23 1.21 1.17
No. of lists with 1 or more seats 11 9 -2 11 1.00 0.82
Seats for largest list 35 33 -2 36 0.97 0.92

The scale of the defeat for the core Bibi bloc is clear. Already in April, these parties had less than 50% of the votes, at 48.7%, which is why they won only 60 seats under Israel’s proportional system. If we include Yisrael Beiteinu in the total Bibi bloc, we get 52.7% (which is why this larger definition of the bloc had 65 seats). As I have explained already–both before and after the most recent election–we should not count YB in the bloc, particularly since it was this party’s actions that precipitated the early elections of 2019–yes, both of them.

In the second election of 2019, this Bibi bloc fell to 44.5% of the vote, a drop of 4.2 percentage points. If we include YB, they do have a narrow majority of votes (51.2%), but we should not include them. However, we probably should include Otzma Yehudit, given that it was part of the Union of Right Wing Parties in April, and probably would have been invited to join a coalition had it cleared the threshold in the September election. But still this is short of a voting majority without YB, at 46.4% (which would mean a loss of 2.3 percentage points off the April showing of 48.7).

For a baseline, consider that the Bibi bloc had 48.4% in 2015, or 53.5% including YB (which was without doubt part of the bloc at that time–their staying out of the coalition initially in 2015 was a surprise). Note that, leaving out YB, they were already below majority voter support in 2015, but had managed 61 seats. The reason they gained ever so slightly in votes in April, yet got only 60 seats, was all the wasted votes for New Right (3.22%), which did not clear the threshold in the April, 2019, election.*

If we include both Otzma and YB in the 2019b election, it looks like a very small gain for the wider bloc. But we should not do this because some of YB’s increased votes probably came from Blue and White or other parties not in the right, due to YB’s promise not to return to a Likud-led government unless it was a “unity” government with Blue and White.

On the fragmentation indicators, the effective number of seat-winning parties went up, from 5.24 to 5.67, despite the drop of the total number of lists winning seats, from 11 to 9. The increase in the effective number is due to the smaller size of the largest party in the more recent election, 33 seats (Blue and White) vs. 35 (tie between Blue & White and Likud).

The effective number of vote-earning parties came down somewhat, from 6.33 to 6.11. None of these measures is much different than what we should expect under the SPM, although the raw number of represented lists this time is actually smaller than expected, while the effective number of seat winning parties was closer to the expectation in April than now.

We should expect the largest party, given this electoral system, to have 30.2% of the seats, which out of 120 works out to 36 (rounded down). The election pretty much nailed that in April, but this election saw a return to a smaller than expected plurality party.

So, strictly from the SPM, this was a slightly less “normal” election than 2019a, although not too far off. From the standpoint of the usual pattern with a “b” election (a second one within a year), it was, as I anticipated, a little unusual. Typically, the effective numbers go down and the size of the largest up. Israel went the opposite way between April and September, and thus government formation still will not be easy.


* We could go back and include Yachad (of which Otzma Yehudit was a part) in the 2015 count, which would bring it to 51.3%, but at the time I do not recall their being taken seriously as part of the bloc. Doing so, of course, increases the scale of the loss of voter support already as of the first election of 2019.

Bibi was right to be worried: So now what?

Update: Three Joint List MKs (the Balad faction) have written to the President to say they withdraw their recommendation of Gantz, contravening the leader’s earlier claim to be speaking for all 13. This puts Gants one behind Netanyahu. I don’t think it changes the bigger picture, as described below, however.


Over the summer, I noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu was, by his actions, showing he was worried that he would not retain his post after the elections of 17 September. He was right to be worried. The election results were very bad for him. His party, Likud, came in second place, two seats behind the Blue & White alliance, led by Benny Gantz. The 31 seats for Likud represent a loss of 8 seats, based on the combined strength in the April election of the Likud list and Kulanu (which merged into Likud before this election). That is a stinging rebuke from the voters.

The combined right-wing/Haredi bloc had 60 seats in April; it seemed like 65 as the results came in, because it was assumed that Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Liberman, should be counted in the bloc. However, it was already evident before the April election that Liberman’s support could not be guaranteed. It was his decision to leave the government in December, 2018, that led Netanyahu to go for the early election in the first place; an election was not required earlier than November, 2019. (Liberman also had taken his time joining the government after the 2015 election, having initially remained outside and thus leaving the Likud-led bloc with 61, the narrowest of majorities.)

Liberman refused, after the April election, to rejoin a Netanyahu-led government, which is the main reason a new election was called for September. Based on the results, the bloc that was Bibi’s government on the eve of the April election has lost five seats, and now has only 55.The Haredi (ultra-orthodox) have grown from 16 to 17 seats (Shas, the Sephardi Haredi party, picked up a seat). The ultranationalists, reunited on the Yamina list after the disaster of April when New Right barely missed clearing the 3.25% threshold, wound up with 8 seats. Superficially, this is gain, as the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) had only 5 seats in April. But their potential might have been greater, given that their reunion should have also added on the 4 potential seats they just missed out on in April. However, they again lost votes to division, as the racist Otzma Yehudit (which was part of URWP and also had a candidate on the Likud list) ran separately but still earned 1.9% of the vote in this most recent election–about 2 seats worth, but well below the threshold.

However, there is a really important point that casual observers of Israeli politics often overlook: There is not even a semblance of a unified center-left bloc that could form an alternative government now that the “Bibi bloc” (minus Liberman) has been decisively defeated. While Blue and White has 33 seats, and thus a plurality, the only plausible center-left coalition partners (the realigned Labor + Gesher but minus Stav Shaffir, who joined the Greens and Barak + Meretz) bring in only 11 more seats (6 for Labor-Gesher, 5 for Democratic Union). So that’s 55 for the right-Haredi bloc and 44 for what might be loosely called a center-left bloc. Very loosely, as there is little about B&W that actually leans left. It ran about as pure a “valence” campaign as you will ever see, meaning it focused on how they could be tougher on Hamas in Gaza than Bibi has been, and would be competent, but otherwise not much on issues.

One issue B&W did emphasize was secularism, which is also one of the issues that propelled Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, to a strong debut showing in 2013. Lapid is the #2 on the B&W list. This was also the issue that Liberman emphasized in refusing to rejoin Netanyahu’s bloc after the April election. It certainly worked, as he increased his seats from 5 (his party was below the threshold in many pre-election polls earlier this year) to 8. He has said he will only recommend to the President that the government to be formed now be a “unity” government of B&W, Likud, and his party.

This leaves us with the Joint List, consisting of Arab parties. (One component is Hadash, basically the Communist Party, which always has one Jewish MK.) Reunited for this election, after running in two separate lists in April, the Arab parties got back to their 2015 debut performance as a single list, winning 13 seats. This makes them the third largest bloc in the Knesset. During the campaign, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh tried to set some conditions under which they would join a government. However, he immediately had to walk them back as other leaders of the parties in the list clearly were not on board with the idea.

Odeh and others have made several statements since the election that they are not interested in sharing collective cabinet responsibility. So do not even ask if there could be a government of B&W, the left parties, and the Arab parties. It is not going to happen, even if Gantz invited them, which he will not. Also note that even if this were a viable option, it still is not a majority–it is 57 seats–unless Yisrael Beiteinu joined. And that is really hard to imagine. Or if the Haredi parties joined, which honestly is easier to imagine, but still highly unlikely.

Nonetheless, the Joint List made an announcement on 22 September that it will recommend to the President that Gantz be given the first attempt to form a government. A fly in the ointment is that Balad, one of the components of the Joint List, says it opposes recommending Gantz; they have three seats, and it is not clear if this means they would vote differently from their colleagues if it came to that. But we are a long way from any vote testing Joint List discipline. Odeh said, in part:

My colleagues and I have made this decision [to recommend Gantz be tasked with forming a government] not as an endorsement of Mr. Gantz and his policy proposals for the country. We are aware that Mr. Gantz has refused to commit to our legitimate political demands for a shared future and because of that we will not join his government…

Our decision to recommend Mr. Gantz as the next prime minister without joining his expected national unity coalition government is a clear message that the only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Arab Palestinian citizens.

Selecting a formateur–a member of the Knesset who will attempt for form a government–is one of the President’s few constitutional duties. Usually it is perfunctory. However, with neither the former governing bloc nor any obvious alignment around B&W having 61 Knesset members backing it, this time the President, Reuven Rivlin, actually has some discretion.

It looks like there will be 55 recommendations for Netanyahu and 57 for Gantz. If Liberman also recommends Gantz, then the latter has 65. Even if Liberman does not do so, it is likely that Gantz now will get the first call as formateur. But it is only an opportunity. It does not make him Prime Minister. So, can he pull it off?

A unity government (a grand coalition of some degree of grandness) still would be the most viable, and closest to what both Gantz and Liberman campaigned for. However, the very large obstacle is the continued presence of Netanyahu. Gantz and his allies in B&W have repeatedly said they will not sit in a government with him, and at least for now I assume they will stick by that. So unless Netanyahu sees the writing on the wall and resigns, or somehow Likud tells him it is time to spend more time with his family (while he can before he goes to prison), this option won’t materialize at least for a while.

It is possible that Netanyahu will face his formal indictment some time over the period Gantz gets to form a government. In that case, maybe the odds of the “unity” outcome improve with a new Likud leader as #2 in the cabinet. Till then, it remains difficult to see how it happens.

The other option is a minority government. In many parliamentary democracies, that is exactly what would happen in such a situation. But Israel has no such tradition. The only minority governments the country has had were short-term cases after some parties left a government, not the first government formed after an election.

A minority government is more politically sustainable now than it would have been before the most recent amendment to the Basic Law provisions on government formation and dissolution. There is now a full constructive vote of no confidence, whereby the Knesset majority is unable to vote a government out unless it affirmatively elects, with at least 61 votes, a replacement. Thus it does not take 61 votes to form a government (as always, a plurality of those voting would suffice), but it takes 61 to replace it. This increased viability for minority governments is exactly why I recommended a constructive vote of no confidence be adopted when I was an advisor to the Israel Democracy Institute in 2010. Now it has been adopted; I am not claiming credit, but I sure would like to see it put into use!

Such a formula could be stable, but would require an agreement with outside support parties regarding budgets. That is the one way a government could still be forced out even without 61 votes for a replacement–if it could not pass a budget. Given that the demands the Joint List presented concern enhanced funding for their services and infrastructure, including a new Arab town, there actually is the basis for such a deal. But, again, it would still require either Liberman to go along (whether in government or outside), or the Haredi (who have been known to be buyable with budgetary concessions!).

I do not think such a government will be formed. It is way too sensible! More seriously, it would be fraught with problems, with the risk that the cabinet takes some military measure due to a provocation from Hamas (or someone else), and the Joint List pulls the plug, giving up the budgetary concessions for the feel-good political gains of denouncing the government’s actions.

So, what other options are there?

The following looks implausible as of now, but it is a majority: a center-left-Haredi coalition consisting of B&W (33), Labour-Gesher (6), Democratic Union (5), and the Haredi parties (17). I will assume that Liberman would not join this; he has said he will no longer sit with the Haredi parties, but if a sufficient accommodation were made to appease Lapid and others in B&W, would he sit out? If he did not join, it would be only 61 seats and thus precarious. Perhaps it still could strike some sort of deal with the Joint List to tacitly support it in exchange for some policy concessions, without formally signing up to keep the government in power.

If Gantz gets the nod, which seems likely (whether they want to go first or not), he has at least three paths to forming a government, but none of them will be easy. To summarize, they are:

  1. Hold out for Netanyahu to leave the scene, and head a “unity” coalition with Likud (with or without Yisrael Beiteinu, whose votes would not be needed).
  2. A minority government, taking advantage of the stability conferred by the constructive no-confidence vote provision, with agreements from the Joint List, the Haredi parties, and Yisrael Beiteinu (at least two of those three, although the Haredi would be sufficient) to support it on budgetary and other key policy votes.
  3. A majority coalition with the Haredi parties.

For each of these, it is easy to name the reasons why it won’t happen. But one of them needs to happen, or else the country will go to a third election. Actually, that could be more likely than any of the above! But that is a topic for another day.

Follow up: The statistical indicators of the two elections of 2019, compared.

Meanwhile in the UK…

I think I’ve said this a time or two before… but things in the UK seem to be getting pretty interesting this week, and in the weeks to come.

Strong and stable, and all that.

So, any predictions, comments, etc.? Here’s the place.

In a ‘b’ election, does turnout increase or decrease?

Israel today has held its second general election of 2019. I did an earlier data dive into such second elections in other countries.

In the previous entry, I did not look at turnout. I’ve seen several claims that it is a “surprise” that turnout in Israel was (supposedly) up today, compared to April. It seems to be a conventional wisdom that voters would be tired of campaigns and voting and would just go to the beach.

So, is that CW reasonable? I thought not. Other things being equal, a prior election should have revealed that important political outcomes are really at stake. On average, then, I think that should increase interest in a second election in close succession, not decrease it.

But, of course, we should not rely on either CW or my hunches. We should look at the data! So I did.

Second elections (and third, in case of Greece 1989-90) within one year are not very common. But with that caveat, turnout changes from one to the next in a sequence for 16 elections where I found data:

* mean +0.00788
* median +0.001
* range: –.074 to +.168
* half increased, half decreased

So, as is often the case, the CW is wrong. There is no systematic tendency of turnout to decrease in a ‘b’ election. However, I am not going to claim victory for my contrary hunch, not on margins like that!

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.