Israel’s New Kingmakers: Arab Voter Trade-Offs Between Economic- and Ethnicity-Oriented Voting in the 2021 Knesset Election

Under what conditions do voters from marginalized ethnic groups support parties that promise to address economic inequality concerns over ethno-national identity? In an inequality-based ethnic vote equilibrium, ethnic-majority parties seeking to build a minimum-winning coalition target ethnic minorities by offering targeted economic incentives and ignoring ethnic identity concerns, which are designed to change the strategic voting calculus of ethnic minorities. Using highly disaggregated voter data from Israel’s 2020 and 2021 elections and individual-level surveys, I show within Arab-majority localities, support for ethnicity-centric parties fell by 41% while economic-centric voting increased by 39%. Ra’am, an Islamist Arab party running on an economic inequality-focused platform, played kingmaker, securing development funding for Arab communities but did not ask for political concessions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This strategy reflects Ra’am’s broader shift from focusing on macro ethno-nationalist cleavages to improving Arab socioeconomic status within a Jewish state in forming Israel’s first ethnically heterogeneous coalition.