Its previous study caused bonafide uproar. Religious Jews rejoiced, secular Jews were offended, and even Yair Lapid was called in to assure secular Jews that “they are not vanishing just yet”. Now, however, it appears that this was truly much ado about nothing.
Three months ago, the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) released its annual Democracy Index, which revealed a marked decline in the number of Israelis that define themselves as secular, and had indicated that only 20% of the Israeli population can be regarded as secular in its religious beliefs.
This represented a new “low” for Israel’s secular population, which had seemingly declined from 41% in 1973 to 20% in 2007.
On Sunday, however, the IDI’s Guttman Institute released new survey data revealing very different figures, and indicating that Israel’s secular Jews constitute roughly half of the country’s population. The discrepancy between the two studies, researchers maintained, was due in large part to a misinterpretation of earlier survey data.
A message on the IDI’s website stated that “The 2008 Israel Democracy Index uncovered the following breakdown of Israel’s population: 51% of Israelis are secular, 30% traditional, 10% Orthodox, and 9% haredi. We are sorry for any misunderstanding stemming from earlier data which might have conveyed the wrong impression.”
The Guttman institute also maintained that its newly released data is virtually identical to survey data obtained from the Central Bureau of Statistics, which indicated that 44% of Israelis are secular, 25% are traditional but not religious, 14% are traditional and religious, 10% are Orthodox and 7% are haredi.
The institutes newly released survey data is based upon a representative sample of 1106 Israelis. The completed Israel Democracy Index will be released in May, but the center decided to release some preliminary data earlier in order to correct their earlier blunder.
How do we account for these changes?What went wrong, then? According to Guttman Center Director Professor Asher Arian, when the center had released an article publicizing its 2007 survey results, it had mistakenly included an erroneous analysis of survey data within this publication.
“The word ‘secular’ never appeared in our survey,” explained Arian, “as we had only examined varying degrees of affiliation towards the Jewish tradition. In the completed analysis, however, the word “non observant” was mistakenly replaced by the word “secular”, leading to these inaccurate results.
According to Professor Arian one can take two separate approaches when examining such data, depending on whether or not one defines anyone that is not ‘observant’ as ‘secular’. The new data, he maintained, is farm more accurate as it is based on respondents’ own self-reported religious affiliation.
According to information obtained by Ynet, it was strong public reaction—even outcry—following the release of the earlier survey data the led the institute to hastily renege on its earlier results.
Many organizations, most notably the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, had contacted the IDI following the initial publication of its survey data and maintained that the results obtained are inaccurate and based on inconclusive evidence at best.
The IDI thus decided to quickly unveil this new self-report data in order to quickly correct the mistaken impression generated by its previous results.
Professor Asher stated that it is only after more current results for the 2008 Israel Democracy Index were made available that the center was able to “amend the inaccuracies in its data.”