The data reveals that Israel’s political system is split by many overlapping divisions - along identity and status lines – making it is far more difficult to change voters’ positions and further contributing to the current political stalemate.
We are (once again) on the threshold of an election campaign for a new Knesset, for the fifth time in three and a half years. Voters tend to believe that their decision on who to vote for is an informed and rational one, and most importantly-is an independent decision they make for themselves. This may be the case, but we should also take note of voters' demographic characteristics, often linked to their identities and the social groups to which they belong, and often shaping and influencing their vote.
To examine voters’ characteristics, we looked at six different polls conducted in the past year by the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute. We examined the distribution of voters (N= 3,948) for the elections to the 24th Knesset held in March 2021, according to six parameters: Political camp, on the spectrum from left to right, self-definitions of ethnicity, religious affiliation, age, gender, and monthly income. The analysis of the data reveals the following main insights.
• Only two parties, Labor and Meretz, were characterized by a majority of voters from the Left. Whereas the majority of Meretz voters (58%) define themselves as on the far Left, and less than one third (29%) as moderate Left, among Labor voters, only one quarter define themselves as far Left (24%), with a larger percentage defining themselves as moderate Left (44%). One third of Labor voters define themselves as belonging to the Center political camp.
• In the two Centrist parties, Yesh Atid and Blue and White, half the voters define themselves as belonging to the Center camp, and a minority (20-30%) stated that they belonged to the Right or Left camp (20%). In this regard, there is hardly any difference between the two parties.
• The New Hope party has merged with Blue and White. It is therefore interesting to examine to which political camp voters of these two parties belong . As noted above, whereas only 30% of Blue and White voters identify themselves as belonging to the Right camp, two thirds of New Hope’s voters reported belonging to the Right camp, and only one quarter to the Center.
• The Bennet-Lapid government's difficulty to survive is revealed in the data regarding affiliation to the different camps. As opposed to the majority of political parties that made up the coalition whose voters were affiliated with the Center or Left, the vast majority (90%) of Yamina voters were affiliated with the Right.
• In general, the percentage of voters from the ultra-Orthodox, religious, and traditional-religious sectors who voted for parties that were members of the current coalition, was very low. Among Meretz voters, 2.5% belonged to the ultra-Orthodox, religious and traditional-religious sectors; Yesh Atid – 6%; Labor – 7%; Yisrael Beiteinu – 8%; Blue and White – 12%; New Hope – 14%. Here again, the outlier is the Yamina party – half of its voters define themselves as religious or traditional-religious.
• The reverse is true among voters for the opposition parties, among which there are hardly any secular voters: Less than 1% of Shas and Torah Judaism voters defined themselves as secular, and among the voters of the Religious Zionist party, the figure stands at just 5%. The picture in the Likud is slightly different, but still only 28% of Likud voters defined themselves as secular. The largest group of Likud voters defined themselves as traditional non-religious (35%) and traditional-religious (23%).
• Similar to the distribution by political camp and self-definition of religious affiliation, very significant differences between the different camps can also be seen in the distribution according to self-reported ethnicity and in some cases, even between the various parties within the political camps.
• In four of the parties that are members of the current coalition, the majority (either relative or absolute) of voters define themselves as Ashkenazi: In Meretz, Labor and Yisrael Beiteinu, an absolute majority define themselves as such (70%, 55% and 54% accordingly), and in Yesh Atid – half of the voters. Among Blue and White voters, a relative majority define themselves as Ashkenazi (39%) and among Yamina voters, an equal percentage of voters define themselves as Ashkenazi and as Sephardi (39% in both cases). New Hope is the only coalition party with a majority of Sephardi voters (45%) as compared to Ashkenazi (34%).
• Among most of the opposition parties, the reverse is true. A large majority of Likud (58%) and Shas (75%) voters define themselves as Sephardi, and a minority-as Ashkenazi (Likud (21%) and Shas (just 3%). The picture in Religious Zionist party is similar to that in Yamina, with an even distribution between Sephardi (42%) and Ashkenazi (38%) voters. Not surprisingly, among Torah Judaism voters, the absolute majority (84%) define themselves as Ashkenazi.
• In all the Center-Left parties, the largest group of respondents reported above-average income, headed by Yesh Atid voters (46%). Among those who reported below-average income, the figure ranged from 30% (Yesh Atid and Blue and White) to 37% (Labor).
• In the two Right parties in the coalition – Yisrael Beiteinu and Blue and White – the distribution according to average, below-average and above-average income categories was almost identical-about one third for each category.
• In all four opposition parties, the largest group of respondents reported below-average income. The lowest income earners were Shas (61%) and Torah Judaism (58%) voters, followed by almost half of Likud voters (46%). Just 29% of Likud voters reported above-average income, which is the reverse picture of voters for Blue and White- the largest party in the Center-Left bloc.
Gender A significant difference can be seen between the percentage of male and female voters in some of the parties. More women (59%) than men (41%) vote for Labor, headed by Merav Michaeli. The opposite is true for Meretz, though the difference is less significant (55% among men, and 45% among women).
• An absolute majority of male voters can be seen in two additional parties: Religious Zionist (62%) and Yisrael Beiteinu (63%).
The data reveals that Israel’s political system is split by many divisions which often overlap. For example, many of Yesh Atid’s voters are Ashkenazi, secular, above-average earners, whereas many traditional, Sephardi, below-average earners tend to vote Likud, and to a lesser, but not insignificant degree, Shas. This situation has led to the political stalemate seen in Israel in recent years. When the splits are along identity and status lines, it is far more difficult to change individuals’ positions. Movement from one bloc which, to a large degree, is characterized by Left-Center, Ashkenazi, secular and above-average socio-economic status to the other bloc which is characterized by religiosity or traditionalism, Sephardi and average and below-average socio-economic status, or vice-versa is a lot more complex.