Study: Israeli Public Distrust Government on Controlling COVID-19 But Willing to Abide by Fair and Objective Guidelines
The Netanyahu government – and the prime minister himself – receive very bad marks in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in Israel, according to a new poll conducted at the University of Haifa. But ironically, the citizenry nevertheless shows high readiness to follow government guidelines if they are professionally and fairly set.
The Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Prof. Eran Vigoda-Gadot and Prof. Shlomo Mizrahi and Dr. Nissim Cohen from the department of management and public policy at the university examined issues of trust.
The current number of Israelis found to be infected in a single day has remained stable at 1,500 to 1,800, with 12 to 14 people dying within 24 hours (or a total of 400 dead in the past month and almost 900 since the beginning of the pandemic). This makes the per-capita infection rate in Israel today one of the worst in the West. The economy too is suffering badly, with nearly a million Israelis out of work.
In July, the researchers surveyed a representative sample of 813 Israeli adults in their “Second-Wave Study” examining the performance of public bodies dealing with the crisis, as well as Israelis’ attitudes towards the correct ways of dealing with the crisis and their readiness to take an active part in such a deal. All data reported are on a scale of one to six, with one representing a very-low estimate and six representing a very-high estimate of the government’s performance.
About 70% of the public think that the government’s performance in dealing with the corona was “not good.” About 80% think that the management of the exit from closures in the spring was not dealt with effectively; 68% think that the involvement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – including his nearly nightly ominous speeches on TV – was not helpful.
Yet, more than 80% said they would obey the government’s guidelines and be willing to pay fines if they broke the government’s rules. “It is quite possible that if the upward trend in mistrust continues, the willingness to obey and cooperate will decrease,” the researchers said.
The survey did not include the public’s assessment of the performance of Prof. Ronni Gamzu, director-general of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and former Health Ministry director-general, who was appointed by Netanyahu on July 22 as National Coronavirus Project Coordinator and director of the Special Operations Control Center.
Gamzu, who has opposed numerous statements and positions of Netanyahu and other members of the government coalition, has even hinted that he will resign his post. Although the prime minister promised that Gamzu would receive “full powers” to fight the pandemic, pressure by ultra-Orthodox (haredi) politicians to allow tens of thousands of Breslav Hassidim to make their annual Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to Uman in the Ukraine where Rebbe Nachman, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov is buried threatens to greatly increase infection when they return. In addition, numerous cabinet members, MKs and other politicians have been infected, forced to go into isolation and been seen to violate rules on masks and physical distancing.
“The Israeli public is willing to make an effort and contribute but does not think the government and its policies are trustworthy,” the researchers said. “It is possible that at this stage, the fear of the virus is still greater than the fear of the government. There may be concern that if the public refuses to observe the rules, the situation will worsen and cooperate will decline.”
The main trend that the researchers identified was the gap between the decline in public trust and low scores for the government dealing with the crisis, as opposed to high scores and a high willingness to obey the government. These data cross sectors and demographic and economic characteristics.
For example, at the peak of the first wave (in April 2020), the average score for the efficiency and effectiveness of government actions in the face of the crisis was 3.3, a number that dropped to an average of 2.69 about three months later in July. Confidence in the Health Ministry dropped from 3.54 in April to 2.98 in July – and even confidence in the Shin Bet (General Security Service) dropped from an average level of 4.89 in April to an average level of 4.32 in July.
Overall, the levels of trust in the government and government officials in light of their response to the corona crisis are very low in July 2020. Only about 26% express confidence in the government, compared to 74 % who expressed little. About 68% did not agree with the claim that the prime minister’s personal involvement was helpful and credible, compared with 82.5% who express little confidence. Only 36% expressed confidence in the Health Ministry compared to 64% who expressed little confidence in it.
About 73% felt that the government response was ineffective and successful and the same percentage thought that the solutions provided by the government were not good. About 80% thought that managing the exit from the closure was not systematic and effective.
The researchers assumed that the low levels of trust and satisfaction would lead to a reluctance to comply with government directives and guidelines, but surprisingly, they found that this readiness remains high. Thus, 83% answered that they agree to act according to government guidelines compared to 17% who answered that they do not agree to act according to government guidelines.
About 73% said they would agree to receive a fine if they did not follow the guidelines, compared to 27% who did not agree. “The exception in this aspect is the willingness to actively engage. That is, when we asked whether the public would be willing to pay dedicated taxes or levies to deal with the corona, 66% of the public refused,” the researchers said.
And what does the public think about the ways to deal with the plague? Perhaps surprisingly, about two-thirds of the public agree with the claim that imposing another closure during the coming month of High Holidays and festivals is necessary to deal with the pandemic in Israel – compared to a third who do not agree with this. About 91% of the public think it is the government’s responsibility to pay those who have lost their livelihoods following the plague. Researchers point to the importance of understanding major trends among the public as a necessary means of data-based decisionmaking.
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