Despite 'Compass,' many unlikely to vote

The more Israelis go to elections, the less they seem to be interested in them.

elections2009_248 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
On Tuesday, Israelis will go to their fifth general elections within a decade, and it seems the more Israelis go to elections, the less they're interested in them. In the first elections in 1949, 86.9 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. In 2001, that number dropped to 62%. Added to those who won't vote, there are still hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have yet to decide whom they'll vote for come February 10, and given the vast array of parties (34) advocating everything from divorced fathers' rights to marijuana legalization - as well as the lack of a single debate featuring the leading candidates - the choice may be far from easy. The confusion about party platforms and general feeling of disgust with the level of political discourse may keep many of these floating voters at home. Pollsters have warned that Tuesday's elections will see a low voter turnout. That warning has found early evidence in an analysis of the results from the Israel Democracy Institutes's Israel Election Compass (, an on-line tool that guides voters to a more informed decision based on their answers to politically oriented questions. In the period of January 22 through February 2, over 600,000 people accessed the Compass, and about 210,000 answered the questions about issues and candidates. The user analysis is based only on the people who chose to answer the extra questions at the end of the survey (around 34,000). Only one vote can be tabulated on every computer, as the system works via identifying IP addresses. Of the people who responded, 18% stated that they did not intend to vote in the upcoming elections, while only 3% said they intended to vote but had not yet decided how. To the question, "As part of a peace agreement, the establishment of a Palestinian State in Judea, Samaria & Gaza should be accepted," 33.4% said they tended to agree, while 26.1% responded they completely agreed. Only 15.2% said they tended to agree that as part of a permanent treaty with security arrangements, the Golan Heights should be returned to Syria, and 36.6% agreed completely that Israel should follow the capitalist approach rather than the socialist approach in dealing with the economic crisis. At the same time, 45.5% of respondents said the state should intervene to prevent the collapse of banks and large corporations. Meanwhile, 25.5% said they tended to agree that the Supreme Court should have the authority to overturn a law passed by the Knesset, as opposed to 16% who agreed completely. To see how representative the Compass users were of the general Israeli adult population, their answers were compared with those of a representative sample of 1,200 Israelis aged 18 and above from the Israel Democracy Index 2008. The same background questions, in exactly the same wording, were used in both cases. The results showed that three quarters of Compass respondents came from the central region (Tel-Aviv and its surroundings), and there were almost no participants from the North and South periphery (only 5%, instead of the 22% expected in a representative sample of the whole country). In sum, the Israeli Jews who used the Election Compass and filled out research questions were significantly younger, better off and more secular than the general population. The typical Israeli Compass user is a young secular Jew living in the center of the country and making a good living. In the first days of the Compass, more men used it than women, but as time went by, it leveled off. In general, respondents' positions were more to the political left. When asked to place themselves on a left-right continuum, 43% placed themselves left of center, compared with only 22% in a representative sample of the adult Jewish population. Abe Selig contributed to this report.