Israel Election: The Eight Scenarios That Could Happen on Tuesday

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Analysis | 

This is how Benjamin Netanyahu makes a comeback on Tuesday – or how Yair Lapid hangs on to power. And also: some unlikely, but not impossible, surprises

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left), Prime Minister Yair Lapid and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the three candidates vying to lead the country.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left), Prime Minister Yair Lapid and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the three candidates vying to lead the country.Credit: Matty STERN / U.S. Embassy Jerusalem;Oded Balilty/AP; Artwork: Anastasia Shub.

The companies preparing the exit polls for Israel’s three main broadcasters on Election Night have an even tougher job than usual this time around.

It’s not only because the polls all predict a virtual tie between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs, and have been saying so for the past four months, but also because of the number of small parties – both above and below the electoral threshold – whose individual results could dramatically change the overall picture.

Usually, after three or fours hours of counting, there are enough actual results to update the exit polls and obtain a more or less accurate indication of the outcome. However, given the number of close calls and anticipated challenges to the results, it could take a bit longer this time.

The polls we have so far (until last weekend, when the polling purdah kicked in ahead of Election Day) are remarkably stable. All of the main pollsters agree that the Netanyahu bloc of parties is polling in a range of 59 to 62 Knesset seats – with a chance of winning a majority. In fact, this is what we’ve been seeing in the polls for months now, and the pollsters seem to agree on five main assumptions that will decide the overall outcome…

Polling assumption 2: Ayelet Shaked’s Habayit Hayehudi and the third component of the former Joint List, Balad, are polling at around 2 percent and have not crossed the electoral threshold in any poll.

בית יהודי מחנה יהודה
An election ad for Ayelet Shaked’s Habayit Hayehudi party in Jerusalem. The ad says: “Without Habayit Hayehudi, no Bibi.”Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Polling assumption 3: In the last election, March 2021, there were two right-wing parties running that were opposed to Netanyahu: Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope. These parties, which received a combined total of 13 seats, are not running separately in this election (Yamina has dissolved and New Hope signed up with Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party). According to the pollsters, most of the votes for these two parties will now be going to the four pro-Netanyahu parties (Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism). In 2021, this bloc received a total of 53 seats and is currently polling at between 59 to 62 seats.

Polling assumption 4: Arab turnout will remain relatively low, as it was in 2021, at around 45 percent. Since the Arab turnout has widely fluctuated between recent elections and remains difficult to call, no one will be hugely surprised if the actual turnout in the community is as much as 10 percentage points higher (making it much more difficult for the Netanyahu bloc to win a majority) or 10 percentage points lower (all but guaranteeing a Netanyahu win).

Polling assumption 5: In 2021, Religious Zionism exceeded expectations by winning six seats. Some 18 months later, it is polling at least double that – in the range of 12 to 14 seats. Most of this growth is coming at the expense of other parties, but the pollsters also believe at least some of it is coming from Itamar Ben-Gvir’s ability to bring out those who haven’t voted in the past. Habitual nonvoters are notoriously difficult to predict, but the assumption is that they may be adding as much as two seats to the Religious Zionism total, which is pushing the Netanyahu bloc toward that target of 61 Knesset seats for a Knesset majority.

The possible scenarios for Tuesday night – or whenever we get the final results – will be decided by the number of these polling assumptions that hold true.

How wrong can the pollsters be? They’ve had five election campaigns to perfect their models and have been in consensus throughout this election. Yet there are so many changing variables that no one will be surprised if at least some of the above assumptions are proven wrong.

Likely result scenarios

Scenario 1: The pollsters are right and Netanyahu falls short of a majority.

If each of the small parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc (with the exception of Balad) crosses the electoral threshold, Arab turnout is no lower than 45 percent and there is no major rise in Likud turnout, the Netanyahu bloc is likely to win 59 to 60 seats, just short of a majority.

כנס בחירות מפלגת בל"ד
A man folding a banner away in support of Balad. The party will likely need a large Arab turnout on Election Day to pass the electoral threshold.Credit: David Bachar

Scenario 2: The pollsters are right and Netanyahu scrapes a narrow majority.

If each of the small parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc (with the exception of Balad) crosses the electoral threshold but Arab turnout is slightly lower than 45 percent and there is a rise in Likud turnout, the Netanyahu bloc will likely win 61 to 62 seats – giving it a slim majority.

Scenario 3: One party fails to cross the threshold and Netanyahu wins a majority.

Of all the polling assumptions, the one most likely to prove incorrect is number 1, because it’s actually five separate assumptions that Labor, Meretz, Hadash-Ta’al, United Arab List and Yisrael Beiteinu all cross the electoral threshold. If just one of these parties falls short (Hadash-Ta’al currently looks most in danger, especially if Arab turnout doesn’t pick up) and all the other assumptions hold, the Netanyahu bloc is likely to have a small majority between 61 to 63 seats.

מרצ כנס חברה ערבית
Meretz leader Zehava Galon in front of a party ad warning of the pro-Netanyahu bloc winning 61 seats (and a Knesset majority) unless people vote for Meretz.Credit: Fadi Amun

Less likely scenarios

Scenario 4: Arab turnout goes up and two Arab parties cross the electoral threshold. Bad news for Netanyahu.

If the Arab turnout is higher than current polling suggests – say, around 55 percent (it was 65 percent in the March 2020 election), Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List are likely to cross the electoral threshold and the Netanyahu bloc will struggle to win a majority. If Arab turnout goes as high as 60 percent, even if that is not enough to push Balad over the threshold (but certainly if it is), the Netanyahu bloc will only win a majority if Meretz or Labor fail to cross the threshold – and even then it’s uncertain.

Scenario 5: More than one party falls beneath the electoral threshold. Comfortable Netanyahu majority.

If polling assumption 1 is even more mistaken, then two or more small parties could drop beneath the electoral threshold, potentially giving the Netanyahu bloc 63 to 65 seats and increasing its majority in the Knesset.

פעילים ליכודניקים מחנה יהודה
A woman holding a Likud poster at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, calling on voters to give Benjamin Netanyahu’s party a Knesset majority.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Least likely scenarios

Scenario 6: Low Arab turnout, small parties are wiped out. Big night for Netanyahu.

Polling assumption 1 is based on Arab turnout not falling too low and Yesh Atid not attracting too many voters away from the Zionist, left-wing parties. But if the pollsters are wrong on both counts and Arab turnout is around 40 percent or lower and Yesh Atid is too successful, then both Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List could fail to cross the threshold, as well as Meretz or Labor (or even both). This would be a wipeout, giving the Netanyahu bloc 64 to 67 seats and a sizable majority.

Scenario 7: Ben-Gvir bubble bursts and Shaked passes, leaving Netanyahu with options.

שלטי חוצות בחירות 2022
Campaign ads for Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party in Tel Aviv.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

If the pollsters have been misled on the size of the Religious Zionism surge and some of those religious/right-wing votes have gone – against all predictions – to Shaked’s Habayit Hayehudi, allowing her to just scrape over the electoral threshold, Netanyahu is likely to have 61 to 63 seats and a much easier time building a governing coalition, as he will not necessarily have to rely on Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party (splitting the Religious Zionism slate) and could build a coalition with Shaked and at least part of Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party.

Scenario 8: Everything goes wrong for Netanyahu and the Lapid bloc wins.

If all the parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc (except Balad) cross the electoral threshold but the pollsters’ other assumptions are incorrect, it could turn out to be Yair Lapid’s night. For this to happen, the Arab turnout needs to be significantly higher than expected (at least 55 percent) and a larger proportion of those votes would need to go to United Arab List and “Jewish” parties in his bloc. It would also need the 2021 vote for Yamina and New Hope to divide more evenly between the two blocs. In this case, the Netanyahu bloc would have around 55 to 58 seats, and there’s even the possibility that the outgoing government (the anti-Netanyahu bloc, not including Hadash-Ta’al, which is not in the coalition and probably won’t be), currently polling at an average of 55 to 56 seats, would be within reach of a majority.

שלט שלטי בחירות בן גביר
An election ad for Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit, running as part of the Religious Zionism slate on Election Day. “Who’s the landlord here?” the ad asks.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
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