Wednesday, March 15, 2023

IDI Poll Leads Israelis by the Nose on Judicial Reform (Judean Rose)

Polls can offer valuable insights on public sentiment. But when pollsters ask leading questions, there are no insights. The public sees only what they were directed to see: poll results that exactly mirror the bias of the poll’s designer. Take for example, a recent poll on judicial reform conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), the subject of a Jerusalem Post report: “Two-thirds of Israelis oppose Netanyahu government's judicial reform – poll.”

When the piece came out on February 21, I thought, “Oh, sure,” snorted and went on to read something else. Because I knew it was a bunch of crap. There’s no way that many Israelis oppose judicial reform. Israelis voted for the current government because they want judicial reform. We don’t want the court to have the ability to strike down legislation that reflects the will of the people. It’s undemocratic. It’s overreach. 

Despite my skepticism, not two weeks later, I was prompted to revisit that Jerusalem Post report. My token left-leaning friend had posted a photo of himself on social media getting ready to leave for a judicial reform protest. He was smiling and holding an Israeli flag. I glanced through the comments to get a feel for the pulse of this small group of virtual friends. What points were they arguing? How many were for and how many against? That interested me far more than my left-leaning friend’s joy in joining the “revolution.”

I found that just as in the recent election, my friend’s friends were, by far, in favor of judicial reform. I did note one dissenting voice: that of a writing colleague from my early Times of Israel blogging days. She very politely asserted that most Israelis are opposed to judicial reform, and cited the Jerusalem Post report.

That’s when I went to take a closer look. Not because I was looking for a reason to discredit the JPost piece, but because I became curious about the poll itself: there had to be something wrong with that poll. Because Israelis had voted for judicial reform.

The problem, if the first two paragraphs of the report are anything to go on, appears to be leading language. This definition of leading questions is as good as any other:

Leading questions are survey questions that encourage or guide the respondent towards a desired answer. They are often framed in a particular way to elicit responses that confirm preconceived notions, and are favorable to the surveyor – even though this may ultimately sway or tamper with the survey data.

Here’s that first part of the JPost piece (emphasis added):

66% of Israelis agree that Israel’s High Court of Justice should be able to strike down laws that are contrary to the nation’s Basic Laws, a survey carried out by IDI’s Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research found. Furthermore, the survey found that 63% agree that the current system requiring concurrence between MKs and justices for judicial appointments is appropriate.

The language is quite clearly culled from the IDI report on the poll, which begins very much the same (emphasis added):

66% of Israelis: Supreme Court should have power to strike down laws that are incompatible with Israel’s Basic Laws | On Judicial Selection Committee: 63% Support Current Principle Requiring Agreement between Politicians and Justices.

In both cases, there’s an implied threat to the language—if we don’t stop judicial reform, the High Court will lose its ability to curb the rash, illegal actions of the rogue Netanyahu/Smotrich/Ben Gvir government. This, the respondent is given to understand, would be bad, even disastrous.

More leading language from the IDI poll, here and below.

Well, most people are nice, and they want to please the nice poll people. So they say what they think the pollsters want to hear—even if they voted for and still believe in judicial reform. People like to comply. And that is the purpose of leading language and leading questions. Someone (or even a great many someones) are led to say something, but that something may or may not be true.

In a letter to Politico in 2007, the late MK Dick Leonard related the following anecdote:

On a famous occasion in 1970s, when Britain was about to join the European Economic Community (EEC), a survey by a leading polling organisation used a split sample, one half of the respondents being asked the following question: “France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg approved their membership of the EEC by a vote of their national parliaments. Do you think Britain should do the same?”

The other half were asked: “Ireland, Denmark and Norway are voting in a referendum to decide whether to join the EEC. Do you think Britain should do the same?”

Each half of the sample produced an overwhelming yes vote. It is because of this example that reputable polls long ago ceased to use leading questions and that is why I doubt the validity of the poll conducted on behalf of O’Brien’s organisation.

It’s a dirty and cowardly trick: the pollster elicits the desired answer with the specific intent of generating false numbers to be sensationalized in the news and in the bowels of social media. It’s not even about swaying those who sit on the fence, undecided.

It’s disinformation. And it’s born of exploiting people’s niceness; their desire to be kind, to accommodate, whenever possible, their fellow human beings.

Some people, of course, are swayed into changing course or becoming apologetic when the issue snowballs out of control. Those people would include, for example, Noa Tishby, and Miriam Adelson.

In reality, however, it doesn’t change a thing. Judicial reform was a key issue during the election campaign, and the final tally reflects the current will and voice of the people, vox populi. Israel voted for a right-wing government, and they want right-wing policy. They don’t want to be overruled by the side that LOST.

The side that the people did not vote for.

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