Israelis favor gentle government ‘nudges,’ study says

Israelis favor gentle government ‘nudges,’ study says

High support is found for prompts from the authorities and from businesses that encourage positive behavior, survey shows

Israelis shopping in a convenience store in Tel Aviv, July 4, 2014. (Flash90)
Israelis shopping in a convenience store in Tel Aviv, July 4, 2014. (Flash90)

Israelis of all walks of life tend to support gentle prompts from government and businesses that encourage positive behavior, according to a recent survey.

The method of influence is known as “nudging,” and it includes measures like enabling organ donation registration during driver’s license renewal, or having credit card companies send SMS alerts when customers approach their credit limit.

The use of nudges is being examined in several countries as a tool governments can use to encourage healthier and money-saving behavior without using heavy-handed regulations or limiting people’s freedom to make choices.

Israelis showed a higher degree of support for the use of nudges than most other countries, according to the survey, which was conducted by The Israel Democracy Institute. That support crossed cultural and political lines, though some groups differed on certain examples.

Out of 609 participants, 507 were Jewish and 102 were Arab. Of the Jewish respondents, 100 were ultra-Orthodox.

The most support, regardless of background, was for nudges that encourage informed thinking or that benefit the individual. Less support was shown for nudges that rely on default behavior patterns or that benefit the wider society at the expense of individual choice.

The most popular were automatic notifications for medical examinations and credit alerts, which contribute to conscious decisions. The two least popular were removing candy from cashier stations in supermarkets and enabling registration in an organ donation database when renewing driver’s licenses. Those nudges seek to take advantage of people’s unwitting inclinations to influence their behavior, the study’s authors said.

There were some variations based on respondents’ backgrounds, ages, political leanings and education levels. Non-Haredi Jews were generally more supportive of nudges than the ultra-Orthodox and Arab respondents. People with more education preferred more nudges, especially credit limit alerts, removal of candy and allowing drivers to deposit car keys at places of entertainment that would require they pass a breathalyzer test to get them back. Those with an education beyond high school were supportive of nudges an average of 71 percent of the time, while that number was 66 percent for other groups.

Don’t touch the candy

The survey showed some variations based on cultural attitudes. There was strong opposition in the ultra-Orthodox community to the organ donation registration example, and there was opposition among Arab respondents to removing candy from cashier stations.

Respondents of certain demographic groups tended to favor nudges that benefited their groups. People 65 and older were the most supportive of the option for organ donation registration at license renewals. People between the ages 18 and 24 favored depositing car keys at establishments at a higher rate than older people.

“It’s possible that younger people are more acutely aware of the danger of drunken driving, as well as their own difficulty in avoiding such situations,” the researchers noted. “As such, this cohort may seek out the use of this nudge as a sort of preemptive mechanism.” The lead researcher was Dr. Yuval Feldman.


Overall, support was about 66 percent for all participants regardless of political orientation, although specific nudges were received differently on this basis. Left-wing voters were less supportive of depositing car keys and providing caloric information of items on restaurant menus. Voters for religious parties showed the highest support for adding graphic warnings on cigarette packs. Right-wing voters were more supportive of sending voting reminders at election time. Support rates of centrist voters most similarly reflected the attitudes of the sample as a whole.

Israeli women smoke cigarettes while spending time at a cafe in central Tel Aviv. (Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)
Israeli women smoke cigarettes at a cafe in central Tel Aviv. (Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)

The survey showed no significant difference between support for nudges provided by the government and those run by private entities, suggesting no connection between trust in government and support for nudges. But the researchers noted that the government’s role was not explicitly stated, as was done in previous surveys conducted in other countries.

“Therefore, the relatively high level of support found for nudges throughout this survey can perhaps be attributed to reflecting the respondents’ purer position, one that is uncluttered by prior political leanings,” the researchers stated.

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