The Israeli Voters Have Spoken

A survey conducted in April 2011 by IDI’s Guttman Center and the Dahaf Institute on behalf of the Save Israeli Democracy NGO reveals that Israeli voters are fed up with political parties and Knesset members, but are willing to support initiatives that will change the situation. Find out more about the results of this poll in the following article by Hanoch Marmari, Director of Save Israeli Democracy, which was originally published in the Maariv Hebrew daily newspaper on April 25, 2011.


Israeli voters have spoken loud and clear: They want fewer and larger parties in the Knesset. They prefer political parties that are more open, transparent and free of corruption. They are willing to compromise their positions a bit if necessary and support a large party that is able to have an impact and promote policy. Israeli voters have a negative opinion about the integrity of political parties and do not appreciate the work of Knesset members. Nonetheless, they want to participate in the political game and are ready to support initiatives that will involve them in it.

These sentiments are revealed in a survey of a representative sample of Israel's adult population that was conducted in April 2011, just before Passover. The survey reveals that Israeli voters are more open to the idea of reform and improvement of the political system than are their representatives in government institutions. Even if it's merely a brief survey, the results are clear, some even decisive, and can be used to form a sharp picture of the public's perception of the political system. The results of the survey confirm opinions and positions expressed by participants in focus groups conducted by Save Israeli Democracy across the country in recent months in order to explore these issues. Following are some conclusions and insights that arise from its data.

  1. Voters prefer large aggregative parties

    An overwhelming majority (70%) of all respondents support raising the electoral threshold (26.2% oppose it). In addition, 55.5% of respondents would prefer to vote for a large party that has positions that are slightly less congruent with their own but has more influence (35.8% would prefer a small party that matches their ideology more closely). The answers to both these questions indicate a strong tendency to support big parties that see themselves as parties that tend to form the government and therefore present a broad public agenda and try to create an ideological common ground.

    Young voters appear to be more purist than veteran voters: Only a minority of respondents (38.5%) up to age 35 would prefer to vote for a large party, while the majority (55.8%) would prefer to support a small party that is compatible with their views, even if its impact is limited. However, a majority supports raising the electoral threshold even among the young: 57.1% of voters up to age 35 support such an increase (37.8% oppose it).

    Women support raising the electoral threshold more than men (72.4% vs. 67.7%), yet they prefer to vote for small parties (38.4% among women versus 33.3% among men). The higher the respondent's level of education, the higher the support for raising the electoral threshold: 58.7% of respondents with a partial high school education support such an increase, as compared to 75% of those who have completed their college education.

    It is interesting to note the high level of support for raising the electoral threshold that was found among Arab voters (55.6% favor an increase, compared with 41.1% who oppose it), even though such a development will force the small Arab parties to regroup and will perhaps even force different parties with different ideologies to unite.

  2. Voters want more party democracy

    A majority (54%) of respondents think the state should encourage parties to select their candidates in internal elections (38% oppose). A sweeping majority also supports a more open and transparent approach at the polls. Thus, 68% support the idea of displaying the party's list of candidates for the Knesset on the party's ballot and allowing voters to indicate their preferred candidates on the ballot on Election Day, so as to improve their ranking within the party list (compared to 27.2% opposed).

    In this regard, a gender difference was found: 71.7% of women support the idea, compared to 64.4% of men. Other sections revealed that 72.9% of Israel-born Jewish voters support this idea, 67.7% of immigrants who arrived in Israel since 1989 support this idea (a finding that might interest Yisrael Beiteinu, since this population is largely from the Former Soviet Union), and 65.4% of young respondents support this idea. Presumably attitudes regarding these matters are affected not only by the demands for democratization that are being heard in many countries, but also by social networks that allow for personal expression and by reality TV shows that allow the audience to rank participants and competitors.

  3. Voters are put off by the conduct of political parties and Members of Knesset.

    In examining the main reason why only 5% of Israeli voters are members of a political party, it is noteworthy that respondents most frequently chose the explanation “political parties are corrupt and are mainly involved in political manipulation” (44.3% of respondents). The age factor proved to be significant in this case: 47.1% of voters over the age of 35 chose this answer, as compared with 36.5% of young respondents (aged 35 and under).

    However, it seems that some young people distinguish between their aversion to being a member of a political party and the possibility of their becoming politically involved. This can be affirmed by the fact that 16% of the young respondents attributed their lack of party membership to the explanation that "there are better ways than party membership to influence policy decisions,” as compared to 10.2% of the overall sample. It seems that more young people believe that involvement in social organizations, activity on Facebook, petitions, and demonstrations have more impact on policy than membership in political parties.

    The survey shows that the public is strongly opposed (49% vs. 24.2%) to increasing the number of active members of the Knesset (by reducing the number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers among the MKs). Opposition to even a modest step that would improve the performance of the Knesset while maintaining its current size is an overwhelming expression of distrust of MKs. A breakdown by age shows, not surprisingly, that young people are the biggest opponents of increasing the number of Knesset members.

  4. Structural flaws prevent the Prime Minister from carrying out his policy

    The survey found that 53% of respondents believe that the existing system of government does not allow the Prime Minister to function properly—i.e., does not allow effective governance; in contrast, 39.3% believe that the system does, in fact, allow the Prime Minister to function, so if there is a problem of governance, it is attributable to other factors.

    It is natural to find that voters for former ruling parties—Kadima (61%), Labor (55.3%), and Likud (52.6%)—believe that the current structure of the system of government does not allow policy implementation. It is interesting that Likud voters actually disagree with the leadership of their party, which is preventing any reform of the existing system of government.

    Surprisingly, it is the voters of the parties that are senior partners in the coalition—Yisrael Beiteinu (63.5%) and Shas (66.7%)—parties that have been accused of exploiting the current structure of government for political blackmail, who believe that the current structure does not allow implementation of policy.

    It is only voters for Meretz and United Torah Judaism who believe that the current structure allows the Prime Minister to implement his policy (53.8% Meretz and 51.5% UTJ). A possible explanation for this is that they attribute the Prime Minister’s difficulties in performance to his personal abilities, which they find lacking.

    In a survey commissioned by Save Israeli Democracy in December 2010, 33.4% of respondents ranked "corruption and misconduct of elected officials” as the main factor that impedes the functioning of Israeli democracy. Of those surveyed, 33.2% cited the main cause of this as “the political extortion of the parties” and only 20.5% attributed it to structural flaws in the system. It may be assumed that the public tends to attribute government failures to the moral deterioration of individuals and organizations that can be seen by all, rather than to the rickety structure of the system, which is difficult to perceive without the requisite tools for diagnosis and assessment. 

This survey was conducted on behalf of Save Israeli Democracy by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center and the Dahaf Institute. The survey included 600 respondents who constitute a representative sample of the adult population of Israel (including Arabs and immigrants). Data was collected through telephone interviews that were conducted from April 6–10, 2011.

This article was originally published in Hebrew in the Maariv daily newspaper on April 25, 2011 and has been translated and reprinted with permission.