Beat Of The Streets
Want to know who will win Israel's election? Ask the quotable cab drivers hanging out together.
LARRY DERFNER ISRAEL CORRESPONDENT
ccording to Israeli political
folklore, cab drivers are the
best public opinion poll-
sters. They're the ones with
their ear to the ground, they de-
tect the subtle trends and rum-
blings that professors and political
scientists miss. If you want to
know how the election is going to
turn out, goes the common wis-
dom, ask the cabbies.
This notion seems to have
arisen in the 1977 election, when
cab drivers picked Menachem Be-
gin against all expert opinion, and
Begin won. The cabbies' reputa-
tion was enhanced in 1981, when
they again correctly put their
money on Begin against all the
odds. Whether their predictions
were objective or subjective —
most cabbies to this day carry a
torch for Begin and are "Likud in
their blood" — nobody knows.
In conversations about the May
29 election, most drivers, if not all,
sounded fairly dispassionate. They
work in Herzliya, Rishon Letzion
and near the Tel Aviv Central Bus
Station — in the Israeli heartland,
where nearly all demographic
types get in and out of cabs, where
neither Shimon Peres nor Bibi
Netanyahu holds complete sway.
One after another, the cabbies
testified to an unprecedented
apathy in the Israeli passenger
"There's much less enthusiasm
now. Everybody is stuck in his
opinion and nothing can change
them. All this talk about the 'float-
ing voters' — I haven't seen any of
them," said Shabtai Birman, who's
been driving for 17 years.
"People are tired from all the
troubles, all the terror victims,"
said Yoske, a 15-year veteran
"Nobody's interested anymore.
They're disgusted at all these cam-
paign posters and stickers every-
where they look. They don't pay
any attention to them. They say
the politicians wasted the people's
money putting them up. They
think all the politicians are liars
anyway," said Marek, who has
about 25 years on the road.
But Tzion Tzadok, who's been
driving since 1974, says it isn't re-
ally indifference he's hearing, but
"There's a quiet before the
storm. People feel a lot of uncer-
tainty about the future of the coun-
try, no matter who is elected."
Mr. Birman, standing at the cab
stand in Herzliya with Tzadok,
said this anxiety, especially of late,
is expressed in a rising number of
people taking taxis. "People are
very tense. They know there's go-
ing to be a terror attack before the
elections, so they're not riding in
How will all this translate on
Election Day? "Things feel pretty
even now," said Mr. Birman. "For
now it's a tie," said Mr. Tzadok.
Reuven Maimon, a 30-year vet-
eran driver in Herzliya, agreed
that from what he was hearing
Taxi drivers in Israel.
from his passengers, Messrs.
Peres and Netanyahu seemed to
be running neck and neck. Like
nearly every other cabbie inter-
viewed, Maimon said he could
guess a passenger's political pref-
erences before he even opened his
"If he seems bitter, like he
hasn't gotten anywhere in life,
then he's Likud. If he looks poor,
like he lives in a bad neighbor-
hood, he's Likud. If he looks well
off, if he's wearing a jacket and tie,
if he's an executive at a big com-
pany, then he's Labor. For every
ten passengers you take to or from
Ben Gurion Airport, seven of them
are voting Peres, if not eight," Mr.
With more people looking pros-
perous, they're voting their pock-
etbooks, said Meir Reginiano, a
30-year driver near the Tel Aviv
Central Bus Station. "The econo-
my is good. Myself I'm voting
Likud, but it looks like the elec-
tion is going to Peres."
At the Rishon Letzion taxi
stand, the dispatcher's cap read,
"Netanyahu — Making Secure
Peace." His sentiments were
shared by nearly all the drivers
waiting for fares.
"Peres is an old man. It's time
for him to go home," said the dis-
"You have to give it to the Arabs
on the head. That's the only thing
they understand," said Tzion
Mordechai, a 7-year driver.
"Everybody's Likud," was the
A driver named David, a 15-
year veteran, dissented. "Most peo-
ple are for Peres. And I'm talking
about average, common people.
They're afraid of the Likud's im-
age, that the Likud is going to go
back into Gaza. They say Bibi isn't
experienced enough for the job. I
say Peres will win by 10 percent
or even more."
Not all drivers were so forth-
coming. "I don't discuss politics.
You want to discuss pretty girls,
fine, but no politics," said a Her-
"I don't talk about the election,
I don't care," said a Rishon Letzion
driver. But do the passengers talk
about the election, do they care?
"Nobody talks, nobody cares," he
Add up the cabbies' findings and
you get: voter indifference, fear of
terror, satisfaction with the econ-
omy, and a very close race, tipping
slightly so far for Mr. Peres.
Professional pollsters have been
interviewing thousands of Israelis,
analyzing their answers, and re-
porting these very same results
now for weeks.
"We can smell the way things
are going," Mr. Maimon said,
touching his nose. You want to
know who's going to win the Is-
raeli election, ask the cab drivers;
they're not infallible, but they may
be closer than any other political