Forget the polls and ignore most of the commentaries. The outcome of Israel’s 2020 election is entirely unpredictable for now. Given the potential for unforeseen developments and the question marks over some key factors, Israelis could wake up to a new political reality on March 3.
Election results in the past decade often produced surprises. However, the September 2019 vote was unusual, as the final outcome generally matched polling numbers. This and the sense of stability in current polls suggest that not much will change in the upcoming election. But this impression is wrong.
First, there are the latest events in the region. In the coming months, Israel could find itself embroiled in military clashes on multiple fronts. Tensions in Syria, Lebanon or Gaza could explode at any moment. And wars have a way of dramatically swaying public opinion.
A successful military campaign would highlight Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense credentials and likely propel him to a huge victory. Conversely, poor battlefield performance and mounting IDF or civilian casualties could shatter his political stature. Just ask former PM Ehud Olmert, whose approval ratings dipped after the 2006 Lebanon War.
The Netanyahu Factor
Then there is the question of voter turnout, the big unknown of the March 2020 vote. Notably, Israel is entering an uncharted territory with a third election within a year and an increasingly jaded and frustrated public.
A low turnout rate could completely disrupt traditional voting patterns. Under such circumstances, constituencies who come out to vote in full force could make stunning gains.
Alternately, voter fatigue among supporters of the large parties could spell disaster for them at the polling stations.
Then, there is the Netanyahu factor. The PM is set to transform his campaign strategy and focus on campaigning in the field. Moreover, there is no telling how his complex legal situation, and the way he handles it in the run-up to the vote, will impact Likud supporters.
An energetic Netanyahu campaign premised on an emotional appeal to repel a “leftist onslaught” could prove highly effective. On the other hand, the growing pressure could prompt Netanyahu to make errors that alienate more right-wing voters.
Overall, given the uncertainties and unknowns, Israel’s political map is less stable than it may seem. As Election Day nears, we could see some unexpected and dramatic twists in the plot.