Friday, February 5, 2010

A Year later Likud gains support,PM Netanyahu's approval suffers from Media's negative coverage

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is losing altitude, according to the Haaretz-Dialog poll published here. The results show that, for the first time in a year, a majority of the public is dissatisfied with his performance and questions his suitability as prime minister. This is purely personal, not party-related. Likud under his leadership is actually stronger: If elections were held today, the party would get 35 Knesset seats, eight more than its current total and 23 more than it received in 2006. Netanyahu took a broken, shattered party that had been split and decapitated by the predecessor of his predecessor - i.e., Ariel Sharon - and brought it back to life. No one can take that away from him.

Every few months, this poll, conducted under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs from the Department of Statistics at Tel Aviv University, checks the prime minister's political health. Since his election, Netanyahu had been in pretty good shape. There were always more people who were happy with him than those who were not, generally with an 8-10 point spread in his favor. In the new survey, though, that situation has changed.42% approve Netanyahu's job handling as PM while 45% disapprove. When it comes to suitability for the premiership, Netanyahu still ranks ahead of his rival, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. But the gap is narrowing: Not in her favor, but to his detriment.

Two reasons for this leap to mind. One is the "Sara effect." In the past three weeks, Netanyahu has been buffeted by negative, embarrassing reports about his domineering wife and about him personally, as well as about how he is dealing with her and about developments in his bureau. But the main reason for the drop in his popularity is his decision to freeze construction in the settlements - something no right-wing prime minister before him ever dared to do. The dry facts tell the whole story: Netanyahu is losing support among right-wing voters (though not in the Likud). At the same time, he is gaining popularity among the center and the left. The voters on the right side of the political spectrum are disappointed with him. They still backed him after he declared his support for the two-state solution, but once he took a concrete step they started to turn a cold shoulder.

The alternatives After almost a year in the opposition, Tzipi Livni remains the only significant political alternative to Netanyahu among the three large- or medium-size parties - even though Kadima almost slipped through her fingers; even though she is in the midst of a struggle against the party's No. 2, Shaul Mofaz; and even though Kadima's impact as an opposition power is negligible. Fully 89 percent of Kadima voters prefer Livni over Mofaz. This finding shows how cut off he is from Kadima's voters (or, in this case, from the party's registered members, who determine its leadership). If Mofaz stays in Kadima, runs and defeats Livni, he will transform the party into something completely different from what it is today - he will make it a pale copy of Likud. But in the poll, Kadima loses three seats to Labor, which has nine sweet seats, as opposed to six in the last Haaretz-Dialog poll, in November (and 13 in the last election). The reason: internal wrangling in Kadima. But the new data also indicate that half of Kadima's voters - 14 Knesset seats - would consider voting for a new party led by journalist and television presenter Yair Lapid.