Tell Me How Rich You Are, I’ll Tell You if You’ll Vote Netanyahu

You could summarize Israel’s last two elections with the saying, “Tell me where you live, and I’ll tell you who you’ll vote for.” A cross-check of the September election results with the socio-economic ranking of Israeli communities reveals a significant correlation between the bank account and the ballot box.

Broadly speaking, the rich vote Kahol Lavan, the middle class supports Likud and the poor are divided between the Joint List and the Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. Four tribes, exactly as President Reuven Rivlin described in his defining speech on the divides in Israeli society. The rich and the Arabs are on the left, the Haredim and the middle class are on the right, and the fight between blocs plays out over the upper middle class.

The election doesn’t revolve around the prime minister’s corruption cases, the annexation of the Jordan Valley or even on religious exclusion or secularization. All these fiercely debated topics are merely cover for a class struggle between rival tribes. Political positions derive first and foremost from economic class and the voters’ aspirations, and not from the character, charisma and experience of the candidates.

This is not very different from the United States, or the United Kingdom; but Israel’s proportional system means minority votes also win representation. In America and Britain, the winner takes all in their geographically divided constituencies. The losing votes are wasted, and polarization is amplified.

To understand Israel’s political story, just look at the index issued by the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics, which divides Israel’s 1,183 communities into 10 distinct groups, from poorest to richest. Using data from government ministries and local authorities, it refines its ranking using 14 separate parameters, looking at assets and consumption patterns. We know the upper classes have advanced degrees, big, expensive cars and regularly go through Ben Gurion International Airport, while the lower classes are less educated, go by bus and rarely take a plane.

Benny Gantz campaigning on Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv, September 2019
Benny Gantz campaigning on Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv, September 2019Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The most recent  index, published in two parts in November 2018 and August 2019, was based on statistics from 2015. The coming year will see the publication of a more up-to-date index based on 2017 statistics. The socio-economic index was prepared by a professional team from the statistics bureau, led by Luisa Burke, Natalia Tsibel, Yosif Badran. An oversight committee was headed by Momi Dahan, a Hebrew University professor, and included representatives from academic institutions, government ministries, and city municipalities.

This article was also informed by a report from the Adva Center policy analysis institute, which was published after the September election and analyzed results from a socio-economic perspective.    

The rich see Gantz as their leader

Kahol Lavan was the big winner in the top 30 percent of communities, comprised of Tel Aviv and wealthy communities mostly in Israel’s central metropolitan area. These are instantly recognizable in Israel, like Savyon or Kfar Shmaryahu, a seaside community a short drive north of Tel Aviv strewn with imposing designer villas. Benny Gantz’s party took all of the top 10 percent, 95 of 97 communities in the second-highest decile, and 242 of 270 communities in the third-highest decile in the last election. Israelis of means see Benny Gantz as their representative and leader. Voting for the left-wing party Meretz is positively correlated with voting for Kahol Lavan.

Likud did not win any community in the top two deciles, and placed first in just 18 communities in the eighth decile (i.e. between the top 30 percent and the top 20 percent), most of them in the so-called “periphery,” and some wealthier West Bank settlements, including in the Jordan Valley.

The upper-middle-class, comprising the seventh decile, is the battleground for the two parties with a shot at the leadership. Like Wisconsin or Florida, bellwether states for the U.S. presidential elections, secondary cities, like Haifa, Rishon Letzion, and Holon, as well as hundreds of moshavim, kibbutzim and settlements, and even the well-to-do Catholic Arab community of Mi’ilya, will be crucial. It’s a closely-fought contest: Likud took 32.5 percent of the vote and Kahol Lavon 31.3 percent in the September election.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.