How much does religious affiliation influence the votes that Israelis cast in the ballot box? Central Bureau of Statistics data and Viterbi Center surveys are used to present a comprehensive picture.
This document presents an overview of voting patterns in the Jewish public in the last Knesset elections (March 2021) based on individuals' self-definition of their religious affiliation, using the accepted Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) division into five categories: Haredi, religious, traditional religious, traditional non-religious, and secular. The first section of the document presents the voting patterns of each of these groups. The second section examines voting patterns from a political-party perspective, and presents the distribution of voters by party and by self-defined religious affiliation.
The data is based on an aggregate analysis of 21 surveys carried out by the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute between April 2021 and June 2022, in which respondents were asked (among other questions) which party they voted for at the last elections, and how they define their religious affiliation. Most of these surveys were conducted in 2021, and in total- included 13,070 respondents, constituting a representative sample of the Jewish population in Israel. Only 6% indicated that they did not vote or that they submitted a blank ballot, while 5% refused to say which party they voted for. (The share of those who refused to respond is almost identical across the different religious groups, such that this figure does not have any real impact on the findings). The following overview examines voting patterns only among those who voted in the elections, and thus it is based on a sample of 11,577 Jews. As stated, the religious affiliation categories used here are based on the respondents' self-definition.
The question on religious affiliation used in Viterbi Center surveys is almost identical to the five CBS categories mentioned above, with the only change being to the “religious” category, which is replaced by two categories: “national religious” and “national Haredi.” The total sample of 11,577 respondents is comprised of 5,084 secular Jews (44%), 2,603 traditional non-religious Jews (22%), 1,267 traditional- religious Jews (11%), 1,151 national- religious Jews (10%), 200 national- Haredi Jews (2%), and 1,272 Haredi Jews (11%). As noted, this constitutes a representative sample of the Jewish population in Israel, as defined by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Voting Patterns and Religious Affiliation The Haredi Sector
Of those defining themselves as Haredi, 89% voted for Haredi parties: 60% for United Torah Judaism and 29% for Shas. However, 11% of the Haredi public voted for non-Haredi parties: 4% for Religious Zionism, 3% for Likud, and the rest (4%) for other parties.
Figure 1. Haredi votes March 2021 elections (%)
The National- Religious Sector
As noted, in the surveys conducted by the Viterbi Center, the national- religious public is divided into two groups: The largest group is comprised of those defining e themselves as “national- religious,” and the much smaller group is that of “national- Haredim” (a group that is closer to the Haredi public in terms of religious observance, but closer to the national-religious public in terms of its relationship with Zionism and the State of Israel). The data is first presented for two groups together, and then analyzes the differences between them.
Figure 2. Voting by political party among the non-Haredi religious public (including national-Haredi): March 2021 elections (%)
Three parties can be viewed as dominant among the national-religious sector, together accounting for 80% of its votes: The Religious Zionism party won 30% of the votes from this sector; Yamina garnered 27%, and Likud, 23%. In addition, 11% of national-religious Jews voted for Haredi parties (of these, 70% voted for Shas and 30% for United Torah Judaism), and 9% voted for other parties (and of these, 60% voted for New Hope or Blue and White).
Figure 3. Voting by political party among the national-Haredi public: March 2021 elections (%)
Figure 4. Voting by political party among the national- religious public (excluding national -Haredim): March 2021 elections (%)
Significant differences can be seen between the voting patterns in the national- Haredi public and in the rest of the national-religious population. The national Haredim voted to a much greater extent for the Religious Zionism party (42%) and for Haredi parties (27%), with only a tiny share voting for Yamina (4%). By contrast, Yamina was the most popular party among the rest of the national religious public, gaining more votes even than Religious Zionism (31% versus 28%, respectively), while only 8% of this group voted for Haredi parties. It is interesting to note that an almost identical share of both these groups voted for Likud (21% and 23%).
The Traditional Public
As stated above, the traditional Jewish public in Israel is also divided into two groups in the surveys: “traditional religious” and “traditional non-religious.” The data is presented both for the two groups together, and then- for each group, separately.
Figure 5. Voting by political party among in the Traditional public: March 2021 elections (%)
The most popular party in the traditional public, by a considerable margin, is Likud, though many traditional Jews (more than 60%) voted for other parties. The four most dominant parties among this group of voters, after Likud, are Yamina (14%), Yesh Atid (11%), Blue and White (10%), and New Hope (8%). Of the remaining 18% of traditional Jews, half voted for Haredi and religious parties (Religious Zionism, Shas, and United Torah Judaism), and half for other parties (mainly Labor and Yisrael Beytenu).
Figure 6. Voting by political party among the traditional religious public: March 2021 elections (%)
Figure 7. Voting by political party among the traditional non-religious public: March 2021 elections (%)
In the traditional religious public, there is a clear preference for parties identified with the right-wing Netanyahu bloc at the last elections: The percentage of votes for Likud is higher than among the traditional non-religious population, and there is also a reasonably large percentage of votes for Shas (10%) and Religious Zionism (7%). By contrast, among the traditional non-religious public there are hardly any votes for Haredi parties or the Religious Zionism party (4% for all of them, combined), while the percentage of votes for parties such as Yesh Atid, Blue and White, and New Hope is twice as high as the percentage of votes for these parties among the traditional religious public.
The Secular Public
Figure 8. Voting by political party among the secular public: March 2021 elections (%)
As the figure shows, voting among the secular public was relatively scattered, and no party is clearly dominant. The party with the highest share of secular votes was Yesh Atid, with 31%, followed by Likud with 17%, and then- three parties with around 10% of the secular vote each (Blue and White, Labor, and Meretz). Haredi parties garnered almost no votes in the secular public (0.2%), and Religious Zionism also received a very low share of votes, at just 0.7%.
Distribution by Blocs
In addition to the analysis of data on voting for individual parties, there is also considerable significance to analysis by political blocs. Prior to the last elections, the parties organized themselves into blocs, based on their position vis-à-vis the then Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. The pro-Netanyahu bloc included Likud, the Haredi parties, and Religious Zionism. The opposing bloc was made up of the rest of the Jewish parties, which were perceived as being anti-Netanyahu—with the exception of Yamina, which despite its general tendency to the Right, was perceived as not necessarily belonging to either bloc. Thus, following the elections, Yamina formed a coalition with the Jewish parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc and with the Arab Ra’am party.
Figure 9. Votes for political blocs by religious affiliation: March 2021 elections (%)
The data reveal a strong correlation between religious affiliation and support for these blocs. In the Haredi and national religious groups, there is a healthy majority for the Netanyahu bloc, while a large majority of the secular public voted for the anti-Netanyahu bloc. The traditional group was the most diverse: 48% voted for the Netanyahu bloc, 37% for the anti-Netanyahu bloc, and 14% for Yamina. This would indicate that a small majority of the traditional population voted for parties that formed the coalition after the elections, though given the relatively high share of voters for Yamina, this does not necessarily mean that all of them actually supported the coalition.
Section B: Breakdowns of Voters for Each Party
As stated above, this section examines the distribution of Jewish voters by party and religious affiliation. For the sake of simplicity and convenience, the section focuses on the four main religious groups, combining the traditional religious and traditional non-religious into a single category—referred to as “traditional,” and also combining the national religious and national Haredi groups into a single category, referred to as “national religious.”
Figure 10. Votes for United Torah Judaism and Shas parties by religious affiliation: March 2021 elections (%)
United Torah Judaism
The figures show that United Torah Judaism voters are overwhelmingly Haredi (91%), while Shas voters are more diverse: While a majority are Haredi (60%), there also sizable shares of traditional (23%) and national religious (16%) voters.
Parties with National Religious Leadership
Two parties in the last elections were headed by national religious leaders: Religious Zionism, led by Bezalel Smotrich, which perceived itself as the main party of the national religious sector, and whose leading candidates were all members of that sector; and Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennett. Yamina was also supported by the Jewish Home (Mafdal) party, which didn’t run in these elections, and thus appealed to national religious voters. In addition, Yamina also sought to attract votes from the non-religious public.
Figure 11. Votes for Yamina and Religious Zionism parties by religious affiliation: March 2021 (%)
As can be seen in the data, most of the voters for Religious Zionism were from the national religious sector (61%), while 25% of the party’s votes came from the traditional sector, and 9% from the Haredi public. By contrast, Yamina—despite being often identified in public discourse with the national religious community—gained only 31% of its support from national religious voters, with 45% of its supporters belonging to the traditional public, and 23% -to the secular.
Figure 12. Votes for the Likud by religious affiliation: March 2021 elections (%)
The data show that the traditional sector is dominant among Likud supporters: 56% of Likud voters define themselves as traditional, 31% as secular, 11% as national religious, and 2% as secular. It is also interesting to note that among Likud voters defining themselves as traditional, 64% identify as traditional non-religious, compared with 36% who define themselves as traditional religious (and accordingly, 36% of Likud voters overall are traditional non-religious, and 20% are traditional religious).
Other Parties on the Right and in the Center
Figure 13. Votes for other right-wing and centrist parties by religious affiliation: March 2021 elections (%)
Blue and White
The data indicates that of the four parties, New Hope is the only party among which the majority of its voters are not secular, though a plurality of 47% are, alongside 46% who are traditional, and 7% who are religious. By contrast, Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu both have a large majority of at least 75% of voters who identify as secular, while Blue and White has a more moderate majority of 58% secular voters.
Figure 14. Votes for left-wing parties by religious affiliation: March 2021 elections (%)
* The share of Jews among voters for Arab parties does not appear in a separate figure here as it is tiny (less than 0.3%), and most of them are secular Jews who voted for the Joint List.
The data indicates that 75% of Labor Party voters are secular, similar to the figure for Yisrael Beytenu and slightly lower than that for Yesh Atid. By contrast, Meretz stands out for the distinctly secular profile of its voters, of whom 93% define themselves as secular, while 6% identify as traditional and 1% as religious.