The pundits in Israel, the United States and the West Bank have pretty much forecast the winner of Tuesday's Israeli national elections.
Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing political coalition with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman-- Likud Beitenu -- will prevail. He'll trot to the finish line in an easy horse race, analysts say, citing poll after poll.
But this is just the first stage in forging a new government. After the election for Knesset seats, the arduous government coalition-building begins.
That's not a horse race, It's a bit of "foreplay," as one newspaper put it, and hard-nosed political jockeying.
For now, the 34 parties running from the right, center, and left are maneuvering but digging in their ideological heels.
"The data projects not a more right-wing Knesset," said Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "but a more polarized one."
Polls show that Netanyahu's party will get the most seats of any party in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and his bloc will be the core of the predominantly Jewish state's new government.
The powerful bloc will attract a mainstream Israeli in a country many say is moving rightward.
They are anxious over anti-Israel Hamas adherents next door in Gaza, the chaos in nearby Syria and Egypt, and the nuclear machinations of their No. 1 foe -- Iran.
When Netanyahu declares "we are living in a dangerous neighborhood," that's a deeply felt message resonating for a critical mass of Israeli Jews, from the Negev to Netanya.
But issues have emerged front and center in the race: one, most prominently, is economic anxiety.
That's a ready-made cause for centrists and the left and a threat to the rise of the right in a one-time socialist country morphing capitalist.
Israel is wrestling with a $4 billion budget shortfall; in fact, the election was called because of a failure to adopt a 2013 budget.
Frustrated citizens who took to the Tel Aviv streets in 2011 to protest the country's high cost of living and lack of affordable housing will bring their pocketbooks to the polls.
Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party leader, is running a distant second to Netanyahu's party, but her message hits home, at the kitchen table doing bills, just the same.
"The tremendous feeling that, with one piece of legislation," she said. "I can change the quality of life of tens of thousands of people is something which is very rewarding and gratifying."
A restive political culture
Israel, established as a Jewish state and homeland, has an estimated 7.5 million population. It is more than 75% Jewish, with diverse backgrounds from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas.
The others are mostly Arab Muslims and Christians -- Palestinians and their descendants who stayed in the country after the state was founded in 1948.
The State of Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Its political culture contains big and small political blocs and movements from all sectors of society, ever shifting, disappearing, growing, declining.
No party ever gets an outright majority in the 120-seat Knesset. After Israeli elections, coalition-building begins to get a majority.
This election doesn't pit one big personality against another, as past races have. After the emergence of the centrist Kadima last decade broke up the rivalry between right and left, Israel has been a bit more fragmented.
Will the new government lurch to the far right?
Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu is the product of a coalition -- an uneasy alliance -- between Netanyahu's Likud and Lieberman's even more right-wing Yisrael Beitenu.
Along with its vigilance on security, Likud-Beitenu is supportive of West Bank Jewish settlements, whose presence is reviled by Palestinians and many Israelis as well as obstacles to a peace agreement.