Assessing Leader Credibility during a Peace Process: Rabin's Private Polls

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Auerbach, Yehudit; & Greenbaum, Charles W. (2000) Assessing Leader Credibility during a Peace Process: Rabin's Private Polls , Journal of Peace Research 37(1): 31–50.

This article examines the role of public opinion surveys in the making of turning-point decisions (TPDs) that lead to peace between enemies. We present hitherto unpublished data from private polls prepared for Yitzhak Rabin in order to gauge public opinion regarding the Oslo peace process. In analyzing these data we suggest a theoretical model that outlines the role of public opinion in policymaking. The model considers Holsti's (1996) four major parameters within the pre-Oslo framework: the issue facing the decisionmaker; the decisionmaker's beliefs in and sensitivity to public opinion; the political and social context of the decision; and the stage of policymaking. We find support for propositions regarding a paradoxical process characterizing Rabin's policy. Rabin used public opinion polls to gauge the public's support for him as a leader and for taking hawkish decisions, termed credibility-building decisions (CBD). These decisions, though seemingly detrimental to the peace process, were perceived as necessary in order to maintain Rabin's image as a tough-minded leader who would bring peace with the Palestinians without sacrificing security. We suggest that public opinion surveys may be important in monitoring the effects of CBDs on the credibility of a leader whose goal is to move a peace process forward in a time of uncertainty and threat.