More than three-quarters of Israelis are optimistic about their country’s future, despite security, socioeconomic and other serious challenges that lie ahead, the Israel Democracy Institute found in its annual Democracy Index published on Thursday.

The index is an extensive annual public opinion poll project, which has been conducted by the IDI’s Guttman Center for Surveys since 2003. The 57-question survey of a representative national sample of 1,025 Israeli adults (834 Jews and 191 Arabs) was taken by Tel Aviv University’s Cohen Institute for Public Opinion between April 16 and May 17. It had a margin of error of only 3.1 percentage points.

According to the index, the overall ratio of optimists to pessimists is 75.6% to 21.8%.

Among Jews, 78.8% are optimistic about Israel’s future and only 18.1% pessimistic.

Among Arab respondents, 60.2% are optimistic and 39.3% pessimistic.

“It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically,” said IDI Prof. Tamar Hermann, who oversees the project.

“Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.”

The overall figure is almost exactly the inverse of the United States, where a sample of 1,441 American registered voters surveyed by the Ipsos marketing research firm recently found that 76% believe their country is on the wrong track.

Israel is eighth out of 36 countries surveyed in life satisfaction rate according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s recent Better Life Index. The US is 12th.

When asked why they are optimistic, 21.5% of Jewish respondents gave a general answer; 18.2% said security and the IDF; 13.7% the solidarity of Israeli society; 12.2% patriotism and Zionism; 8.4% their family; 8.2% the economy and technology; 7.1% their religious faith; 6.4% said politics; and just 2% said future peace.

Among Arabs, the main reasons cited were general optimism, politics and Israel’s economy, technology and higher education.

When asked about the near future, 85.4% of Jewish respondents said Israel would be capable of defending itself militarily and 84.9% said the country would maintain its status as a leading hi-tech nation.

Only 17.1% think Israel will lose its Jewish character and only 32.7% believe Israel will be more isolated internationally than it is today.

Just 22.5% of Jewish respondents believe a peace agreement will be signed with the Palestinians.

The proportion of Israeli Arabs who believe a peace deal will be reached is much higher, 38.7%, and the percentage who consider Israel capable of defending itself is lower, 62.8%.

When asked if they want to live in Israel long-term, the numbers for Jews and Arabs both hovered around 90%.

When asked what tension in Israeli society they see as the most glaring, Israelis said the Jewish-Arab divide, followed by the religious-secular split and the rift between rich and poor, and only then the dispute between the Right and Left on diplomatic and security issues. The percentage who answered ethnic tension between Ashkenazim and Sephardim was so small it was within the margin of error.

The index asked varying Jewish groups whether Israel being a Jewish or democratic state was more important to them. Among haredim, 80.4% said Jewish and 19.2% said both. Zero percent said democratic and not Jewish. Among Israelis defining themselves as secular, 35% said democratic, 20% said Jewish and 43.3% said both.

More than 50% of Israelis defined themselves as rightwing, 30% as centrist and just 17% as left-wing. When asked how the government was handling the state’s problems, 14.1% of leftists said well and 83.6% said not well. Among centrists, 32.3% said well and 64.4% not well.

The Right was divided, with moderates in a statistical tie between those saying the government was handling the state’s problems well and those saying the opposite, and those who define themselves as far-right saying not well by a wide margin, 56% to 41%.

Asked which institutions they trust, Arabs put the Supreme Court first, followed by the police and then the media. The institutions they trust the least are political parties and the prime minister.

Left-wing Israelis also said they trusted the Supreme Court the most and the parties the least.

Right-wing and centrist Israelis trust the IDF and the president the most, and political parties and the media the least. The poll was taken well before controversial statements President Shimon Peres made about the government’s handling of the Iran issue.

The majority of respondents feel that the protests of summer 2011 succeeded in raising media interest and public awareness regarding social and economic issues but were less successful in changing government priorities and failed to weaken the status of the wealthiest tier.

Jews were three times more likely than Arabs to say that the Arab political leadership was more extreme than Arab citizens of Israel.

A majority of Jewish respondents (58.3%) believe that Israel’s Arab citizens are not discriminated against, while a majority of the Arab respondents (74.9%) hold that they are.

Hermann said the divides on many issues revealed by the survey proved the strength of democracy in the Jewish state.

“I believe that Israeli democracy is alive and kicking,” she said. “It’s a vivid and lively democracy, even more so than the democracies in the West. The average citizen is interested, knowledgeable and opinionated on politics while in other states they are seen as the purview of the upper echelon. It’s a good sign for a democracy when people are engaged.”

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