On March 18, Israelis woke up to an unexpectedly strong Likud party. Polling at several seats fewer than their center-left rival the Zionist Camp in the final days before the election, Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist Likud had won 30 seats to center-left Zionist Camp’s 24, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. The Israeli electorate is known to be fickle, making polling a challenging endeavor, and in the days leading up to election day, as much as 16% of the electorate admitted to being undecided. In the end, they seem to have overwhelmingly chosen the safe bet.
Much like the United States, this process is done over landlines and this makes it difficult to capture the sentiment of younger voters, who usually live without such outmoded technology. The traditional pollster questions, such as “Who did you vote for last time,” “What is your ethnic origin?” and “Where do you live?” can’t predict a Gen Y Israeli’s party affiliation; values and demographics have changed. This new phenomenon, coined as “shifting sands” by Israeli political observers, refers to an electorate that has no party loyalty and instead will switch its political home, even several times in one election campaign. This makes it incredibly difficult to gauge votes in the final days before an election. Menachem Lazar, a pollster who prepared surveys for the Knesset Channel and the daily newspaper Maariv, stated “[Centrist Yes Atid party leader Yair] Lapid’s rise in the 2013 elections took place in the last four days, when it is forbidden to publicize election polls. We saw this happen, with every passing day, Lapid’s party simply grew.” The same phenomenon seems to have taken hold this year.
Though usually young Israelis “tend to go for confrontational parties,” according to Dr. Gayil Tashir, a political scientist at Hebrew University, there’s no real way to tell how this demographic voted. However, politicians are signaling that they recognize the importance of this bloc. Israel’s political parties have spent an unprecedented amount of time and resources on the young vote. Party leaders, including religious right-wing Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett, as well as Lapid, Livni, and Herzog, made personal appearances at a number of high schools for mock debates and other election programming. The Tel Aviv International Salon, a young professionals organization which describes itself as a “nonpartisan, honest broker that brings top leaders and decision makers to speak in English to Tel Aviv’s community,” hosted hundreds of young residents at six different events, presenting debates and speeches from members representing all of Israel’s major parties.
The voter turnout on March 17th was 72%, the highest in the last fifteen years, shows that Israel’s younger generation is listening. It’s just not very loyal to any one party.
Merav Ceren holds a BA in International Relations from UCI, where she led the re-establishment of Anteaters for Israel, and is pursuing her Masters in International Relations from Syracuse University.