Veteran international pollsters and experts on public opinion have found that in Israel, polls swing much faster than they do in other Western countries.
The classic example was the first two in a series of Smith Research polls of what Israelis thought about US President Barack Obama, published in The Jerusalem Post.
The first poll, taken in May 2009, found that 31 percent of Israelis believed that Obama’s administration would be more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian and 14% thought it would tilt to the Palestinian side.
Just three weeks later, the numbers had drastically changed. The percentage saying Obama’s administration would be more pro-Palestinian rose to 50%, while those saying it would be more pro-Israel fell to only 6%.
There were two events back then that changed the numbers significantly: Obama’s June 4, 2009, speech to the Muslim world in Cairo and a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Obama in the White House that went badly.
Now it is Netanyahu’s poll numbers that are swinging back and fourth.
In the first week of Operation Protective Edge at the beginning of July, 57% of Israelis were satisfied with Netanyahu, according to a Channel 2 poll taken by Shiluv Millward Brown Market Research. It rose to 82% on July 23, after ground forces entered the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu came back down to earth Monday night when data showed
that 50% of Israelis were dissatisfied with him and just 38% satisfied – a 17% drop since a poll broadcast Thursday night.
The most obvious explanation is that the polls have fluctuated along with the number of Jewish Israeli fatalities in Operation Protective Edge.
The first people killed on the Israeli side were a man who knowingly put himself in harm’s way to deliver treats to IDF soldiers, a Thai worker and a Beduin.
When they were the only victims, the prime minister’s popularity was high. As the tear-jerking stories of young IDF soldiers and their beloved fiancées and family members hit the airwaves, Netanyahu’s numbers fell.
Monday’s poll was taken while the news was dominated by the funeral of four-year-old Daniel Tragerman
. Pictures showing him riding his bicycle and wearing a uniform of soccer star Lionel Messi made his tragedy one any Israeli could relate to.
The question about satisfaction with Netanyahu was asked in the poll immediately after a query about the government’s treatment of residents in the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, in which the prime minister fared poorly. That undoubtedly brought his numbers down.
Netanyahu consistently polls poorer when it comes to questions about the public’s socioeconomic situation.
The question about satisfaction with the prime minister in Monday’s poll became one not only about his handling of the operation but also its economic fallout on residents of the South.
Chances of elections being advanced have fallen, because of an anomaly in the Israeli political system: The more popular a government is, the more likely early elections will be called so the parties in the coalition can reap rewards. The less popular a government is the more stable it is, because the parties in charge will want to stay there and not risk initiating an early race.
So Netanyahu does not have to worry because he has plenty of time to fix his image. Chances are his numbers will eventually swing up again in the pendulum of Israeli public opinion.