Latest Poll Finds Popularity Gap Closing Between Peres and Shamir

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres remains Israel’s most popular choice for prime minister, but his Likud rival, incumbent Yitzhak Shamir, has managed to close the popularity gap considerably in recent months, according to a public opinion poll published Thursday in the daily Maariv.

Peres, who heads the Labor Party, was favored for the top post by 35.4 percent of Israelis, while Shamir polled 27.3 percent, according to the survey, which was conducted by the Modi’in Ezrachi Research Institute.

But Peres’ popularity has dropped from 42.7 percent last November and 37.7 percent in January, while Shamir’s has risen from 18 percent in November and 17 percent in January.

Ariel Sharon, a hawkish member of Likud’s Herut wing, came in third for choice as premier, with 6.8 percent, and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was favored by 5 percent.

Rabin, a Laborite, leads the preference for defense minister, though his standing has dropped to 42.5 percent in the latest poll, compared to 45.6 percent in January and 49.2 percent in November.

He is followed by Sharon, whose popularity has risen to 25.5 percent, compared to 20.2 percent in January and 16.4 percent in November.

Sharon, a former defense minister who now serves in the Cabinet as minister of commerce and industry, has advocated a tougher stance against the four-month-old unrest in the administered territories.

Finance Minister Moshe Nissim, whose tough fiscal policies have put him at odds with workers demanding higher wages, showed a surprising strength as top choice for that post, standing now at 57 percent, compared to 44.9 percent in January and 45.1 percent in November.

He is trailed by Yitzhak Modai, a former finance minister, who polled 13.1 percent in the latest survey.

What all this means really means will be decided by Israeli voters in November, when general eletions are scheduled.

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