Why do Israeli pollsters, media ignore the Palestinians?

Underneath a new Knesset election poll published today by Haaretz, there was a surprising disclaimer: “due to lack of time, the Arab parties weren’t surveyed.”

The reference is to the three non-Zionist and mostly Palestinian Knesset parties: Ra’am-Ta’al, Balad and Hadash, which were nowhere to be found in the charts Haaretz published. Together, they have 11 Knesset seats, including one held by a Jewish member of Hadash. Some polls published in the Israeli media tend to group those parties into one entry, titled “Arab parties.” At other times, they ignore them completely. Often pollsters do include Palestinian citizens in their surveys but the media organization that publishes the results groups or ignores them.

There are objective problems with surveys of the Palestinian population in Israel. The interviews need to be conducted in Arabic, and the response rates are relatively low. Results could be inaccurate, so pollsters need to conduct special polls of the Palestinians to verify their samples and results from time to time.

More important, however, is the wider context. Voting patterns is but another area in which Jews and Palestinians are separated in Israel. “The Arab parties” were never included in any Israeli government, and the consensus tends to ignore them in the decision-making process. Grouping the Palestinians together, or completely failing to mention them, strengthens those trends. It does so at the very time – election season – when the politics of segregation should be discussed and criticized.

Furthermore, by treating Arab parties as one bloc, pollsters and media organizations ignore the variety, richness of opinions and often harsh controversies that exist in Palestinian society; they contribute to ignorance and prejudice among Israelis; and they marginalize and delegitimize a growing number of Jews who take part in or vote for joint political organizations and parties.

Polling problems exist everywhere. The ultra-Orthodox population tends not to trust pollsters or media, and requires special adjustments as well when surveyed. Yet nobody seriously considers not including that population in the polls, or grouping  the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism party with the Sephardi Shas – and rightly so. The same rules should apply to the Palestinian population.

Political blogger Tal Schneider, who collects the polls for the +972 Knesset poll tracking page, recently announced that she won’t promote on her Hebrew blog any poll that aggregates the non-Jewish parties into one bloc, let alone those polls that ignore them. Her decision reflects a deep recognition of the responsibilities in journalism that we are all but too pleased to share. +972 will also not present in our poll tracking page any poll that doesn’t survey or present full results for the Palestinian population. Ignoring some of the data out there might hurt our elections coverage, but ignoring people is worse.

+972’s Knesset poll tracking page
It’s all about the blocs: Understanding Israeli election polls
Understanding Israeli election polls, part II