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Op-Ed: The Blanket Can Only Cover So Much

There are basically two types of parties out there now, those covered under the central part of the blanket and those threatened with being left in the cold.
Published: Monday, December 31, 2012 10:17 PM



You know the feeling - on those cold winter nights, when you and your spouse mindlessly pull the shared blanket in opposite directions and a foot or an arm gets left out in the cold? And then sometimes the baby crawls into bed to snuggle up and kicks the blanket off altogether. I'm sure that you wished then that it could just cover all corners, and that you wouldn't wake with a shiver to find yourself uncovered in the cold.

The political spectrum is similar, in this way, to a shared blanket on a cold night, meant to cover the whole family. The bulk of the body is normally going to be covered by the middle part of the blanket, and the main conflict is between the ends - who are trying continually to cover their own needs, which naturally pulls the cover away from the end on the other side.

Now, let's consider what happens in a family with a lot of kids on a really cold winter night. I know about that firsthand; Mollie and I have 8. Remember that old nursery rhyme: "There were ten in the bed, and the little one said 'Roll over, roll over,' so they all rolled over, and one fell out"?

As the biggest one of the bunch, sometimes I "fight" for my place in the center of the blanket, but at other times I'd just rather be warm and get another smaller blanket to cover my own needs, and leave the rest of the tribe with the main one.

Israel is currently experiencing its 19th Knesset election campaign. In Israel's multiple party system, each eligible voter can pick one party in the election booth. The parties themselves each have a set list of candidates that they have submitted to the Central Election Committee ahead of the elections. The votes are divided among 120 positions in Knesset. The number of seats a party wins determines how many candidates from that party will fill the allotted positions. If a party has 10 people on their list, but only wins 5 seats, only the top 5 on the list are seated in the Knesset.

Each party's own committee determines as they please, who their candidates are and what placement they will have on their party's list. Some parties hold pre-elections within their membership, while others have a non-democratic internal system of choosing their candidates.

Back to the blanket - there are basically two types of parties out there now. A handful are competing for the position of the main central body, and these must deal with the reality that one of their ends will stick out whenever they turn left or right. The other type of party consists of all those "special interest" parties, the ones on the right and left fringes that don't really expect the center position - they just want a piece of the blanket.

The dilemma of the parties that strive to compete for the center - the mainstream - is that while trying to prove that they can cover those special needs, they alienate themselves from the parts of the population who have strong conflicts with those interests.

Recently, Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party has been very effective in widening its support base by reaching out to voters who were not traditionally supporters of the National Religious Party. In addition, they have been very successful in positioning themselves as a young and dynamic force, set to protect national interests in Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu's leading Likud party has been feeling the heat. On one hand, Netanyahu wishes to cover the central-left part of the population and compete for votes that might go to candidates like Lapid and Livni. But on the other hand, he knows that he also needs support from the right, and from the leaders of the Judea and Samaria communities. So the dilemma of the parties fighting for the mainstream vote remains the effort to cover the central part of the body and stretch the blanket to the ends without losing it all together.

Robert Dhal, known as the "Dean of Political Scientists," identifies two of the main causes of apathy among voters in democracies: first, the lack of belief that the individual's vote will really make a difference; and second, the similarities between the competing parties.

The strategy being utilized by Likud, Jewish Home and other parties - the attempts being made to claim each other's voters by proving how much they are the same - can actually backfire on all of the mainstream parties. This can cause more of their potential voters to stay home and not bother to go to the polling stations, because they don't really see what difference would come from one of the parties getting more seats at the expense of the other.

The outcome of this dynamic is that the smaller special interest parties, who have a more loyal and motivated voter base, will get more bang for their buck, as their actual votes will represent a larger part of the overall count, in comparison to the less motivated voters of the mainstream parties.

Those in the center of the blanket can rest assured that they will remain covered, while the edge is the place to get a good grip and use your leverage wisely.