Opinion

On apples, oranges and public faith in institutions

Distorting an Israel Democracy Institute survey.

A sign near the Israel Democracy Institute gate on Pinsker Street in Jerusalem. Photo: Korenn/Wikimedia
A sign near the Israel Democracy Institute gate on Pinsker Street in Jerusalem. Photo: Korenn/Wikimedia
Tamar Hermann
Professor Tamar Hermann is the academic director of Israel Democracy Institute’s Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, and the editor-in-chief of the Open University of Israel Press.

A recent column published on this site (“Manipulating Israeli public opinion,” June 11, 2023) suggested that Israel Democracy Institute researchers composed biased survey questions to skew the results in order to further a particular political agenda.

As the academic director of IDI’s Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, I can say unequivocally that nothing could be further from the truth.

To make this baseless accusation, the author of the column misrepresented a key question that has been asked for the last 23 years in our annual Israeli Democracy Index survey, which is highly respected and utilized by leaders from across the political spectrum.

Like other respected indices published around the world, a key goal of the Israeli Democracy Index is to assess public trust in state institutions. In particular, it seeks to measure how much trust the Israeli public places in a specific institution—such as the Knesset, the IDF or the Supreme Court—as a whole.

The author of the column in question argues that we should have asked, “How much trust do you have in the members of the Knesset you elected?” instead of “How much trust do you have in the Knesset?”

It should be obvious that such a question would be meaningless as a basis for comparing the Knesset to other institutions in the survey. It would be nonsensical to ask, “How much trust do you have in the Supreme Court justices you appointed?” It would be somewhat pointless to ask, “How much trust do you have in the IDF units your family serves in?”

Indeed, the question the columnist would have us pose would not even be relevant to the Knesset itself, since in our parliamentary system Israelis do not vote for particular members of Knesset, but rather for party lists.

In short, the author is asking us to compare apples to oranges.

The polarization of Israeli society is a crucial explanatory factor when analyzing the issue of public trust in institutions. This is why any relevant question in our annual Democracy Index or our monthly Israeli Voice Index—which the author seems to confuse and conflate in her column—also features explicit segmentation of results by political self-identification, level of religiosity and other relevant identifiers. Rather than being concealed from the reader, this information is prominently featured in our survey analysis and the underlying datasets, which are open and available to the public.

Given the immense implications of the current crisis for Israel’s future, politicians and opinion-makers alike should strive to put partisan political persuasions aside and address the issues with the best interests of the country in mind. Objective, unbiased public opinion data gathered according to the highest professional standards are a vital tool in this pursuit. We must not allow empirical data and scientific research methods to be distorted in the service of partisan agendas.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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