Public opinion on Netanyahu sours amid Israel-Hamas conflict

What’s happened?

Polling in Israel increasingly indicates declining support for the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the wake of a deadly incursion into Israeli territory by Hamas, a Gaza-based Palestinian armed group, on October 7th. Although we expect Mr Netanyahu to remain in power as the war in Gaza intensifies, a sharp deterioration in public support for him and his party, Likud, is likely to boost opposition parties’ electoral prospects.

Why does it matter?

Polls suggest that Israeli public opinion is inclined to lay blame less on the army and intelligence establishment for failing to anticipate and prevent the Hamas operation than on Mr Netanyahu for enabling Hamas to remain in control of the Gaza Strip. According to a poll by Maariv, an Israeli newspaper, on October 18th‑19th, only 28% of Israelis believe that Mr Netanyahu is the person best suited to serve as prime minister. The survey also found that if elections were held today, the opposition would win a 68‑seat majority in the 120‑member Knesset.

The government’s slow and chaotic response to the Hamas incursion has compounded Mr Netanyahu’s political woes. Formation of a war cabinet—which includes three former army chiefs of staff—with National Unity, an opposition party, on October 11th marked an attempt to dispel public doubts. However, it has failed to do so, and is increasingly seen as ineffective. The prime minister is widely viewed as having failed to reach out to the public and show empathy, making only a handful of short addresses to the public, avoiding media interviews and holding only one meeting with the families of Israeli hostages in Gaza. Unlike other top officials, he has not publicly taken responsibility for the incident.

However, we consider a change in leadership highly unlikely in the near term. Likud is expected to remain united behind Mr Netanyahu until the conflict in Gaza is over, given a lack of appetite for further political upheaval amid the crisis and as there are no easily identifiable alternatives within Likud to replace him. With defections from Likud unlikely, the opposition lacks the majority in parliament that is required to force the government’s resignation, through either a no‑confidence vote that includes a proposed alternative government or a special law to dissolve the Knesset. 

What next?

Public support for Mr Netanyahu is likely to deteriorate further as the war continues, especially if an Israeli ground operation in Gaza results in high military causalities or loss of life amongst Israeli hostages. Although he will remain in power in the medium term, we believe that Mr Netanyahu’s political standing has been severely damaged, undermining Likud’s electoral prospects in the next legislative election, which is scheduled for 2026.

The analysis and forecasts featured in this piece can be found in EIU’s Country Analysis service. This integrated solution provides unmatched global insights covering the political and economic outlook for nearly 200 countries, enabling organisations to identify prospective opportunities and potential risks.