Presentation of the 2011 Israeli Democracy Index

The President's Residence

On Sunday, September 25, 2011, at 10:00 a.m., IDI President Dr. Arye Carmon and Prof. Tamar Hermann, head of IDI's Guttman Center, presented the 2011 Israeli Democracy Index to President Shimon Peres.

The Israeli Democracy Index has been auditing and evaluating democracy in Israel since 2003. Published annually, the Index presents an evaluation of the quality of Israeli democracy based on objective parameters and public opinion polls. By polling some 1,200 Israelis from all sectors of society each year, the Index sketches an up-to-date, theoretical, and practical portrait of opinions held regarding the preferred form of government, the functioning of the political system, the behavior and performance of elected officials, and key democratic values. Israel's stability as a democracy is reflected in the results, both in the opinions on the issues presented and in Israel's status in comparison to 35 other democracies worldwide. The Israeli Democracy Index also makes a major contribution to public discourse by enabling the use of all the information and statistics it has amassed over the years.

The Israeli Democracy Index 2011 is the result of research by the Israel Democracy Institute's Guttman Center. The Index is based on an annual survey that seeks to sketch a detailed picture of public opinion in Israel - addressing all the country's subgroups - concerning preferred form of government, functioning of the political system, behavior and performance of elected officials and key democratic values. Data gathering was conducted in March 2011, before the protests began, by the Dahaf Institute, headed by Dr. Mina Zemach. The national survey interviewed a representative sample of 1,200 adult Israelis (age 18 and up). Certain questions were then reexamined in a survey conducted in September, following the great wave of protests.

After the protests, the younger age group mostly-but not exclusively-felt even more strongly that its chances of housing and employment success are lower than those of the previous generation: 45% felt that way before the protests and 57% do today. Generally speaking, no changes in trends were noted, nor were there any substantive differences between opinions expressed before and after the protests. Nevertheless, there has been a change in the public's conception of what the government's most important goals ought to be: A sharp rise in support for narrowing socio-economic gaps and a marked decline in support for strengthening Israel's military power (from 40% to 27%).

  • Performance of Democracy: Public opinion is divided: 52.3% of Israelis believe that the country's democracy functions well, but the remainder, about half, are not satisfied. Young people, the ultra-Orthodox, and Arabs were the most dissatisfied. By contrast, a majority (71.5%) of the population is dissatisfied with the government's handling of state problems.
  • Interest in Politics: The public is highly interested in politics: 76.8% claim to be interested or very interested in politics. Contrary to popular opinion, most young adults are interested in politics-just to a slightly lesser extent than older adults (71.2% vs. 81%, respectively)-but they discuss political issues much less than older adults do.
  • Ability to Influence Government Policy: In all the years of the Israeli Democracy Index, most Israelis surveyed have expressed the feeling that they cannot influence government policy (ranging from 68% in 2004 to a peak of 81.6% in 2009). A majority (70.6%) still held this view in 2011, although the percentage is smaller than those recorded over the past few years. Note that there was no change in this respect after the protests.
  • Trust in Institutions: In the March survey, we noted an increase in public trust in nearly all institutions and officials, although trust in the key institutions of democracy-political parties, the Knesset, and the government-was still far from satisfactory. The State President was trusted by 77.8% of the public, followed by the State Comptroller (75.7%), the Governor of the Bank of Israel (75%), the Supreme Court (68.7%), the Attorney General (64.1%), the State Attorney's Office (61.1%), the police (51.8%), the Knesset (51.6%), the government (51%), the Prime Minister (49%), the Chief Rabbinate (48%) and at the bottom of the list-political parties (35.6%). Another interesting finding indicates that although overall trust in the Israel Defense Forces is high, the younger the respondents, the less trust they place in the military: Only three quarters of young adults (74.6%) indicated that they trusted the army, as compared with 84.8% of the intermediate age group (35-54) and 93.2% of the older age group (55+).
  • Explanation of Policy: We asked about the extent to which the government explains its policies to the public. Three quarters of the respondents indicated that the government does not explain policy sufficiently, a finding that attests to a problematic distance between decision makers and their constituents. Regarding the extent of confidence in statements by government spokespersons, in March, a majority (56%) believed that some of what government spokespersons say is reliable. This was still the most common response in September, but the percentage declined to 49%, with a related rise in the percentage of respondents who claimed that most or all of what government spokespersons say cannot be trusted.
  • Attitudes of Voters toward Elected Officials: Two thirds of the population agrees with the statement that most Knesset Members do not fulfill their function appropriately. 70.6% believe that politicians are concerned primarily about their own interests and 43.1% think that a person has to be corrupt to reach the top political echelons in Israel.
  • "The State of Tel Aviv": In March, the Israeli public was divided evenly over the question of whether there is indeed an isolated "State of Tel Aviv" whose residents are none too pleased about discharging their civic duties. Among young adults, Arabs, right-wingers, and traditional, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox Jews, an even higher percentage felt that there is such a "State." In September, there was a very slight rise in the percentage of people who believed that an isolated "State of Tel Aviv" does not exist.
  • Chances of Future Success: Regarding the younger generation's chances of becoming established professionally and financially as compared with those of their parents' generation, a marked difference between the opinions of the Jewish and Arab sectors was noted in March. Among the Jews, the most common opinion was that young people have a greater chance of succeeding in Israel than their parents had (42.1%). By contrast, among the Arabs, about two thirds (65.5%) estimated that young people have less of a chance to become established professionally than their parents had. After the protests, there was a marked turnaround in opinions expressed by the Jewish population and by young people: Today a majority believes that young people now have less of a chance for success than their parents' generation had - 53.5% among the total Jewish population and 57% among young adults.
  • Jewish-Arab Relations: About a third of the Jewish population does not consider Arab citizens "Israelis." Moreover, 77.9% of Jews believe that a Jewish majority should be required for making critical decisions concerning peace and security and even socio-economic issues and issues of governance (69.5%). In other words, the Arab public is excluded from significant political decision making. A majority of the Jewish population (52%) even rejects the claim that there is discrimination against Arabs in Israel.
  • Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom: 50.8% of the population agrees that severe public criticism of Israel should be outlawed. Most of the Jewish population (57.8%) believes that university lecturers should not express political opinions. More than half the Jews (62.9%) even support political control of the content of academic courses.
  • National Solidarity: 83% are proud to be Israelis (more than half the Arab citizens are proud of being Israeli); 78% are certain they want to remain in Israel in the long range and 69.5% feel they are part of the state and its problems. The public estimates the overall solidarity of Israeli society to be moderate, with an average score of 4.8 out of 10. The average score for solidarity of Israeli Jewish society is a little higher (5.8%). Paradoxically, Arab citizens ascribe greater internal solidarity to Jewish society than they ascribe to their own society.
  • International Indices: Israel is situated in the middle of the scale for most international indices, after countries defined as free and together with those defined as partly free. Israel achieved an outstandingly high score for political participation, ranking it in third place - after New Zealand and before Canada. Israel also stands out for its low score in election procedures and pluralism, in which it shares places 18-19 with Argentina. On the freedom of religion scale, Israel ranks in positions 21-28, together with Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia and on the ethnic/nationality/language tensions scale, Israel is in the lowest group, together with Turkey. Generally speaking, there was no significant change in Israel's scores this year compared with those of previous years, except for a slight improvement in economic freedom and freedom of the press.