Study: Arab sector sees no point in voting

Arabs who stay home on election day will do so not out of ideological concerns but because they don't think their vote counts.

Hadash activists greet Ahmed Tibi 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk)
Hadash activists greet Ahmed Tibi 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk)
Most Arab voters who stay home on Election Day this January will do so not for ideological reasons, but because they see no point in casting their ballots, according to a study of the Arab sector published on Sunday.
The study, commissioned by the Abraham Fund Initiatives, also found that domestic issues are the main priority among Arab voters – with respondents noting education, unemployment and the war on crime as their top concerns – rather than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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The broad-reaching survey takes an in-depth look at why fewer and fewer Arab citizens are voting in Israeli elections.
During the last election in 2009, voter turnout in the Arab sector was 53 percent, an alltime low. Several Arab politicians said recently that they would come together to encourage voter participation as a buffer to the ascendancy of right-wing nationalist parties.
The survey, conducted among five focus groups with a total of 500 respondents, showed that even when Arab politicians are elected to the Knesset, their constituents see their power as marginal.
If Jewish leaders were to include Arabs in running the nation’s affairs, it would increase the likelihood of voting among 52% of the total sample and 42% of those who say they do not vote at all. For example, if voting were to guarantee a position for an Arab minister in the government, 56% of respondents stated that this would increase the probability of their voting in the election, and 42% said that it would greatly increase this chance.
No Arab party has ever been part of an Israeli governing coalition, though have some have voted with the government, such as during the tenure of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In the rare cases when there has been an Arab minister or deputy minister, he has been a member of a Zionist party.
Ayoub Kara, a Druse member of the Likud Party from Isfiya on Mount Carmel, is currently deputy minister for development of the Negev and Galilee.
A majority of the respondents said voting is ineffective. Among respondents who said they do not plan to vote, 51% said they would stay home because their votes would not influence the decision-making processes anyway.
Of those who do plan to vote, 54% said they would do so for symbolic or “good citizenship” reasons, rather than due to any belief that their votes would effect change.
Fewer than 20% of the total sample said they believed the elections could improve their lives.
“We are very disturbed by the consistent fall in the level of participation of Arab citizens in various spheres of society, and particularly in the political system,” Abraham Fund co-directors Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Mohammad Darawshe said in a statement released with the study on Sunday. “This decline is a recipe for social instability and for a profound social and ethnic rift that will not easily be repaired in the future. We are interested in seeing expanded participation in the elections, each voter according to his or her conscience, without regard to any particular party or political direction.”
The low level of “ideological abstainers” is an encouraging finding, the two men said, because it shows that Arab voters could be convinced to come out in greater numbers – and have not checked out of participating in Israeli civil society altogether.
“If the Arab public is convinced that it can become a partner in shaping reality in Israel, and if it is perceived as a legitimate partner by the mainstream Zionist parties, it will participate in the elections. If things continue as in the past, and if no one makes the effort to approach Arab voters constructively, voting levels among Arabs may fall even further,” they said.
Dr. Yousef T. Jabareen, the director of Dirasat, the Arab Center for Law and Policy in Nazareth, said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post that Arab citizens of Israeli are “losing hope that their political participation matters.”
Other notable findings in the study include: • Civic agenda: 24% of respondents identified education as the most important issue that needs to be addressed, and a similar percentage cited poverty and unemployment, while 16% believe that crime and violence are the most serious problems facing Arab society.
Twelve percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the most important issue requiring attention.
• Political unity: A pragmatic desire to maximize Arab citizens’ political influence also explains the tendency to support unity among the Arab political parties. A united effort – i.e. all Arab parties running on one ticket – would increase the likelihood of voting among 59% of the sample.
• Leadership: When the respondents were asked whom they trust to represent them in dealings with the state, roughly 30% replied that they trust the Arab members of Knesset. The same percentage said they do not know who represents them.
The political parties were mentioned by 9% as the representatives of the Arab public.
Other respondents identified the Committee of Heads of Arab Local Authorities (8%), the Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership (6%), civil society organizations (9%) and religious leaders (9%).
• Boycotting the elections for ideological reasons: The survey found that only 17% of respondents boycott the elections for strictly ideological reasons.
A further 34% do not plan to vote for various other reasons (a lack of confidence in Israeli democracy or a feeling that “there is no one to vote for”).
• Women’s leadership: Respondents strongly support women’s involvement in politics, and 70% agree that “women make equally good political leaders as men.” Moreover, the inclusion of women on the Knesset party candidate lists is likely to increase the level of participation in the elections, particularly among women voters.
More than 50% of female respondents said that the inclusion of women in the list they support would increase the chance that they would vote.
• Including young candidates: 58% of respondents said the inclusion of young candidates and “new faces” in the Arab parties would increase the probability that they would vote.
• Negative messages (“scare tactics”) do not encourage people to vote: The survey assessed the affect of various messages on the respondents’ inclination to vote. The findings clearly showed that negative messages that focus on the marginal status of Arabs in public life, or attempts to frighten voters by warning of the consequences of nonparticipation (e.g. “If you don’t vote, racism will increase”) are less effective than positive messages that raise the hope of greater participation in decision making.