The rally effect, where public opinion surges in favor of an incumbent government in the face of a foreign policy crisis or military action, is well documented in studies of US foreign policy. Similarly, diversionary theories of war posit that leaders will engage in military adventurism to distract a public from economic troubles or electoral difficulties.
Israel goes to the polls tomorrow. The recent Gaza war is front and center in the campaign. Barak and labor were poised to lose seats, and the conventional wisdom was that a good showing in Gaza could help Barak, Defense Minister, and bolster Labor’s vote share. Same with Livni and Kadima, the current ruling party. And yet, the initial benefactor seemed to be Likud and Netanyahu–as a growing sector of Israeli public opinion seems to think that perhaps the war did not go far enough.
And yet, the most recent reports have seen the right wing (yet secular) party of Lieberman, Israel is our Home, as the real story, gaining seats at the expense of Likud and others. Governing Kadima and Labor don’t seem to be making a significant showing, though the final results tomorrow will tell the full story.
This was not the first time that Israel has launched a military operation right before an election. In 1996, Shimon Peres launched an attack into Lebanon near the election, and subsequently lost to Netanyahu.
Does any of this suggest that these theories might not apply?