Prof. Asher Arian 1938-2010

Asher Arian, pioneer and founder of election studies in Israel, passed away on July 7, 2010.

Asher Arian was born in Cleveland in 1938, received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Reserve University in 1961 and a doctorate in political science from Michigan State University in 1965. In 1966 he made Aliya to Israel, and became the founding chair of the Political Science department and one of the founding fathers of the Social Sciences Faculty at Tel Aviv University. Since the late 1980's, he divided his time between the U.S. and Israel, and carried joint appointments at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and at Haifa University and the Israel Democracy Institute.

Arian's major field of research was Israel, and he is probably the best known scholar of Israeli politics in our time. His textbook Politics in Israel: The Second Generation was published in 3 editions, in both English and Hebrew, and is the most popular textbook on the subject.

Moreover, he may be considered the founder of modern political science in Israel. He founded the Political Science department at Tel Aviv University and established it as a vibrant, first-rate, modern and empirically oriented alternative to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem department - until then the only place political science was practiced and taught at in Israel. He imported to Israel the behavioral revolution, concepts and research tools. He established the scientific research of elections and public opinion. He brought into being the Israeli Political Science Association, was its first chair, and fostered its connection to the International Political Science Association. In 2005 he deservedly received its Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. He initiated and institutionalized multiple ongoing research projects in and about Israeli politics, foremost among them is The Israel National Election Studies. These comprise of an election survey and an edited book published after each election. In 1969 he carried out the first scientific election study in Israel and published the first book in The Elections in Israel series. The books in the series cover the elections and Israeli politics from various perspectives, and over the years, just about all leading scholars of Israeli politics have contributed to the series, as did international experts in electoral politics and outstanding graduate students.

Other research projects Asher Arian conceived and directed were The National Security and Public Opinion Project, initiated in 1985 at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. This project includes annual surveys and reports of Jewish public opinion on issues related to national security. The Democracy Index is carried out under the auspices of the Israel Democracy Institute. It came into being in 2003, and includes a yearly audit of Israeli democracy based on comparative and historical system-level indicators and survey data. The Guttman Center within the Israel Democracy Institute holds the most comprehensive database on public opinion surveys in Israel, based mostly upon the Israel Institute of Applied Social Research surveys since 1947.

Each of these projects was ground-breaking when initiated. They all have been institutionalized and carry on since their establishment. They have both academic and public import and impact. Taken together they provide essential sources for the study of Israeli democracy over time, on its peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses. Asher Arian drew on them in his own work; many Israeli and international scholars and students rely on them in their studies of Israeli politics and society, and will continue to do so.

Asher Arian was a distinguished political scientist and an astute observer of Israeli politics. He authored and co-authored dozens of books and articles on Israeli government and politics, elections, public opinion and political behavior, published in the major international journals and academic presses in English and in Hebrew. He was an involved citizen and his opinion was sought after by academics, politicians and journalists. While focused on Israel, his work was anchored within a comparative perspective, general political theories and quantitative empirical analysis. His most influential books beyond the textbook aforementioned were Ideological Change in Israel, Hopes and Fears of Israelis: Consensus in a New Society; The Choosing People: Voting Behavior in Israel; Security Threatened: Surveying Israeli Opinion on Peace and War; and the 13 volumes of The Elections in Israel series

Asher Arian was loved and admired by generations of students and research associates, whom he loved to mentor and foster; many of them became his friends. His wisdom and good sense, his compassion, wit and humor touched the lives of many. His fight against the cancer in his last years was courageous and stubborn. He continued to work relentlessly until the very last days. Our book The Elections in Israel 2009 in both Hebrew and English is in press and about to be published before the end of the year.

Asher's loss is thus both private and public. It is a personal loss to many of us -- family, friends, colleagues and students. And it is a great loss to Israeli Political Science upon which he left such a significant imprint since he came to Israel almost 45 years ago and until his very last days.

Michal Shamir

July 2010


The Election Studies of Asher Arian

Asher Arian founded the empirical research of voting behavior in Israel, and for many years, has been considered a pioneer, leader, and mainstay of this research field in Israel. With his aliyah to Israel in 1966, he discovered the existence of a serious lacuna in political science research in Israel At that time, there were almost no empirical studies examining the behavior of Israeli voters and certainly no database following changes and fluctuations over time. Arian brought with him from the United States the modern behavioral political science approach and with it the methods, tools, and ideas for examining political attitudes and voting behavior at the individual level. He was the first to implement these in Israel, and did so with great success. As early as the 1969 election campaign, the first following his aliyah, he initiated, planned and conducted a series of election polls, which were the first of their kind in Israel. They included a preliminary survey with a small sample in August 1969, two comprehensive surveys with larger samples representing the adult urban Jewish population in the months from September to November, and a special survey amongst candidates for the Knesset.

The questionnaires that Arian composed in 1969, like those he has written since, were very comprehensive and included questions measuring all variables relevant for studies on voting behavior in the Israeli context. These questions can be divided into several basic groups:

  1. Past and present voting patterns of the respondent in elections for the Knesset, the local authorities, and the Histadrut.
  2. Comparison of the respondent's voting patterns to those of family members and the immediate social environment.
  3. Attitudes towards parties and candidates (evaluating performance, sympathy and trust).
  4. Positions on security, foreign policy, economic, social and constitutional issues.
  5. Degree of commitment to democratic and other values.
  6. Evaluation of current personal and national situation in comparison to the past and the future.
  7. Political participation, political involvement and interest in politics.
  8. Political discussions with family and friends.
  9. Attitudes towards the election campaign and election polls.
  10. Media exposure habits.
  11. Religious behavior.
  12. Personal information about the respondent and the interview.

In those first surveys from 1969, appeared already several key questions which have become identified with Arian and his research approach in Israeli politics, and have been asked repeatedly in all his election surveys over the years. Here are some prominent examples:

  1. The extent of agreement or disagreement to the sentence: "Some people say that a few strong leaders could be more useful for the State than all the debates and laws" (an indication of the degree of willingness to give up democracy for a strong and stable government).
  2. The extent of agreement or disagreement to the sentence: "Politicians do not tend to consider the opinion of the man on the street" (to measure the level of trust in the readiness of politicians to represent the true will of the public).
  3. "What do you think is the most important problem for Israel today?" (to examine the public's priorities of the various issues in the different fields).
  4. " Among the following factors, what is the most important factor in determining your vote for a certain party: identification with the party; the party's candidates; the party's stand on various issues; the party's position in the government or in the opposition?" (to investigate the central issue in election studies, what is the "determining factor" of the vote).
  5. "With which political trend do you identify?" (political identification of the respondent with one of the political camps, defined in terms of "left" and "right").
  6. "Do you support any party, or are you a member or an official in any party?" (basic question to determine the level of political involvement).
  7. "To what extent do you think that you and your friends can influence government policy?" (to measure political efficacy).

A full and detailed analysis of the findings of those first surveys appears in Asher Arian's book, The Choosing People: Voting Behavior in Israel.

After the election, Arian edited a collection of articles about it, which included, among others, an analysis of the data he collected, under the title The Elections in Israel 1969. This was the first in an extended series of edited volumes, which have accompanied every election from that year on. Since 1984, Asher Arian and Michal Shamir co-edit this series and co-direct the election studies. Originally, the books were published only in English; since 1996 they have been released in two parallel editions, English and Hebrew.

In 1973, after establishing himself in academic research in the country and obtaining sources of funding, Arian implemented the most comprehensive election study in the history of Israel, which included a long series of surveys among the general public and among special populations:

  1. Five surveys among the adult Jewish population -- two before the Yom Kippur War (in May and September), two after the war and before the election, which was postponed because of the war (in November and December), and one after the election (in January).
  2. A survey among new immigrants, who had arrived in the country over the past five years and were voting in the Knesset election for the first time.
  3. A survey among young people, aged between 17 and 20, which provided fascinating information about the political world of the younger generation in Israel.
  4. Interviews with parents of some of the young survey respondents, which provided for the first time in Israel empirical data on the inter-generational transfer of political attitudes and voting patterns.
  5. A panel survey, which was the first of its kind in the country, where the same people were interviewed and asked the same questions twice within a four month interval. This enabled for the first time to examine changes in political attitudes and vote intentions of Israelis at the individual level.

In 1977, Arian conducted four surveys, three before the election (in March, in April, and in May) and one after the election (in June) to study the ramifications of the historic political turnover on the electorate. In these surveys, the issue of public corruption, which was then making headlines, was examined for the first time.

As stated, Arian continued to conduct comprehensive election surveys during every campaign, which included a repetition of the central components of the earlier surveys along with additions and adjustments in response to political, economic, social, and technological developments. For the first 30 years the surveys were conducted in face to face interviews, at first using a simple random sample drawn from government lists (such as the Ministry of Interior's eligible voters' list), and later with a multi-tiered method combining stratified, cluster, and systematic methods of sampling. Since 2001, the studies have been conducted by telephone, with divisions into strata according to geographic areas and simple random sampling within each stratum using private telephone number databanks. Originally, the samples represented the adult (20+) Jewish population from large cities (Greater Tel Aviv area, Jerusalem, Haifa, Be'er Sheva). Since 1981 they included all eligible Jewish voters (18+) from all over the country (excluding kibbutzim and settlements beyond the 1967 Green Line). Beginning in 1996 Israeli Arab citizens have also been included in the sample and have been interviewed with a questionnaire in the Arabic language. Since 2001, there has also been a Russian version of the questionnaire for immigrants from the FSU. From that same year, special quotas have been set for ultra-orthodox Jews and immigrants from the FSU to ensure the adequate representation of those two sub-populations in the sample. In the years 1999, 2006, and 2009 panels were conducted, with a special effort made to return after the election to as many respondents from the pre-election survey as possible with questions about their actual vote and their assessment of the election outcome. In the last two election campaigns, the questionnaire included several versions, in order to allow a wider range of questions. Some of the questions appeared in all versions, while others appeared only in some versions; the interviewees within each of the versions constituted a representative sample of the population.

The immense database of election surveys and innovative studies that Asher Arian created in his 44 years of prolific research activity in Israel is a treasure trove of information and a source of many opportunities for fruitful research for the academic community in Israel and beyond. Over the years, innumerable researchers have benefited and will continue to benefit from the impressive research work of Asher Arian, which is an invaluable asset for us today and for generations to come.

Raphael Ventura

August 2010