Israel Votes

Trends in the digital realm may bode well for Netanyahu's challenger.

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On Tuesday, Israelis head to the polls in what has been a surprisingly close and contentious general election. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life. He faces likely corruption indictments and a formidable challenge from a centrist coalition led by former Army chief Benny Gantz. Netanyahu leads in the polls, but he has tacked further to the right and taken an increasingly hard line on domestic security, appealing to the conservative Israeli political parties with whom he must strike a coalition to govern.

Predata signals that capture digital interest in Israel reveal the issues most salient to voters heading into the election. These signals are not polls of public opinion. Rather, they show which subjects are drawing the most attention online. A few trends drawn from those signals may be positive signs for General Gantz and Netanyahu’s domestic opposition.

As the chart below shows, activity on web pages in Hebrew and English related to domestic terrorism is falling, while activity on pages related to Israeli economic institutions is rising. The terrorism signal rose dramatically two weeks ago, when a tit-for-tat outburst of violence between Palestinian militants and Israeli security forces threatened to boil over into all-out war. Since then it has fallen.

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If Israeli voters are concerned about terrorism and security-related issues, Netanyahu would stand to benefit, as he has entrenched himself as the hardline domestic security candidate. On the other hand, increased interest in economic matters may bode ill for Netanyahu, as it touches upon the corruption scandals he faces.

Further, on Saturday, in an apparent play to fire up his right-wing base, Netanyahu said that if elected he would formally annex the West Bank as Israeli sovereign territory, a notion supported by many in his right-wing coalition and opposed by Palestinian entities and many foreign governments. The announcement has so far failed to resonate in the digital realm, however. Activity on Hebrew-language web pages related to the West Bank has risen only marginally, far less than it did a couple weeks ago during the escalation in tensions. Perhaps Israelis are dubious of another eleventh-hour pledge from Netanyahu; this would not be the first time he has played a big national security card in the home stretch of a contested campaign.

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