The last four years...

A statistical comparison to help answer the ultimate campaign question: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

Ronald Reagan on screens 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ronald Reagan on screens 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“NEXT TUESDAY is Election Day,” then-Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan famously said in his final debate with then-president Jimmy Carter on October 28, 1980.
“Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls and stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision it might be well if you ask yourself ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?’” Reagan continued, “If you answer all those questions yes, why then I think your choice is very obvious as to who you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we have been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”
And with those few sentences Reagan gave birth to a campaign slogan that has been heard ever since by incumbents and challengers running for office in every nook and cranny around the world. You can hear it in stump speeches given by those running for prime minister of New Zealand, chancellor of Germany, president of the United States.
And, of course, you can also hear it in Israel.
The “Are you better off now than four years ago?” theme dominated the speeches both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and opposition head Shaul Mofaz delivered to the Knesset on October 15, firing off their opening salvos in the current election campaign.
“Four years ago we received an economy that was in crisis with negative growth,” Netanyahu said, arguing that life now is better here than it was when he took the reins. “Four years ago thousands of missiles and rockets fell on the citizens of Israel.” He talked about a flood of migrants coming over the Egyptian border then, as opposed to now. He talked about how the Iranian issue was not on the international agenda then, as it is now. He talked about how tens of thousands of new jobs have been created now, as opposed to then.
And on and on.
Then Mofaz took the Knesset podium, and day became night; sweet became bitter; good became bad. In Mofaz’s telling, the last four years were not the four good years that Netanyahu boasted of, but rather the four lean years, if not the four leanest years this country has ever experienced.
“Have our lives improved over the last four years?” Mofaz asked, channeling his inner Reagan. “Are we a better country? More just? More sensitive to our citizens? More united? Stronger?” The answer, Mofaz said, was clear to all, and “no campaign slogan can hide the truth.” The Israel going to the polls in January, he declared, is a weaker, more isolated, more divided, more withdrawn and more frightened country than it was before Netanyahu moved into the Prime Minister’s Office for the second time.
So what is it? Feast or famine, boom or bust, all or nothing? Over the last four years have we been living in Netanyahu’s heaven or Mofaz’s hell? Obviously the answer to that depends, to a large extent, on one’s political predilections. However, numbers and statistics can serve as guideposts.
In the old days, when there was a major boxing match, the sports sections in the leading newspapers would run what was called a “tale of the tape” before the fight. This would provide a statistical comparison between the two fighters: age, weight, reach; neck, chest, wrists, fists and biceps size. It measured the measurables, but not the intangibles such as will, heart and drive.
What we have brought below is a list of raw numbers, statistics gauging how things were before Netanyahu took office on March 31, 2009, and how they are today, across a wide range of areas. A tale of the tape, if you will.
This list is neither scientific nor exhaustive. It is culled from a variety of sources, including the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Bank of Israel, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, Peace Now and the CIA World Factbook.
Some numbers compare the period since March 31, 2009, when Netanyahu took office, to the four-year period immediately prior. Others compare 2008, the year before Netanyahu came into office, to 2012, 2011 or 2010, depending on what data were available.
The aim of presenting these statistics is to give readers a rough way of empirically trying to figure out whether, indeed, we are better or worse off now than we were then.
Are we safer? Are we more isolated internationally? Are we paying substantially more for housing? Like everything, the picture that emerges is not black or white.
In some areas we are doing better, in others not as well. And in some spheres – such as the number of Jews living beyond the Green Line and the tenders issued for new construction in post- 1976 Jerusalem – the answer lies very much in the eye of the beholder.