The latest poll out of Israel, conducted by Smith Research, has found that Operation Cast Lead has not stopped the bleeding for the centrist Kadima Party. Prime Minister Olmert, Ariel Sharon's successor, can be fairly blamed for this. His popularity makes George W. Bush look like a rock star. Labor is seeing a boost, thanks to Defense Minister Barak's soaring popularity since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead; an approval rating of 60% is impressive for a man who's approval rating was at 23% in October. However, the real story is that the right-wing hawks, Likuid, are continuing to stay ahead. Why? Follow me after the jump.
It's the economy, stupid! Netanyahu and his opposition Likuid party have sold themselves as agents of change; sound familiar? It should. Netanyahu has taken a page from Barack Obama(Not to be confused with Defense Minister Barak) to the point where the front page of his website looks familiar. The offensive in Gaza against Hamas is clearly helping the leftist Labor party, who's candidate for Prime Minister is Ehud Barak; seen as many as the Robert Gates of Israel, returning pride, dignity and competence to the Israeli Defense Force. However, Netanyahu seems to remain in a commanding position. Other polls, including one taken before Operation Cast Lead, has shown Likuid to be losing a little steam as nationalists grow unhappy with Netanyahu's attempts to appear less hawkish(ultra-hawkish, to be accurate). Additional polling confirms that trend, along with Smith Research's conclusion that Labor is seeing a boost.
There is a chance, a small chance, that Defense Minister Ehud Barak can lead his party to an impressive showing that defies all expectations. There seems to be a real surge with his support, and depending on how events unfold, he may be able to prevent the once-inevitable hawks from returning to full-throated power. Livni, the Foreign Minister and PM candidate for Kadima, does not appear to be receiving a boost in any poll conducted during Operation Cast Lead. This is worrisome, as the centrist party needs to prevent anymore defections to the right-wing parties, especially Likuid. It's clear that the leftist Labor party is only gaining because of the surge Ehud Barak is receiving as Defense Minister. Foreign Minister Livni seems unable to improve her own image, but perhaps that can change if Israel's diplomatic strategy works(or appears to work in the eyes of voters) as well as their military strategy has been perceived to have worked thus far.
As with all elections, polls are only a snapshot. With Operation Cast Lead underway, it is entirely impossible to know what could happen between now and February. However, the situation still looks grim for Kadima and the center-left coalition. It is still likely to boil down to the economy. Operation Cast Lead hasn't yet put any dents into right-wing Likuid, who support the operation, and Cast Lead is the last real chance to stop a big win for Netanyahu. Once again, the only hope for progress rests in some guy named "Barak".