Municipal elections – another dull democratic exercise - Born in Tbilisi, does not really matter

Municipal elections – another dull democratic exercise - Born in Tbilisi, does not really matter

The upcoming local elections are going to be the least interesting and sophisticated of any Georgian elections since the 2012 parliamentary elections when Mr. Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) was ousted from power by the Georgian Dream (GD). Since that time, UNM has remained the number two party in the country and is consistently seen as GD’s punching bag (or as they like to be called, the biggest opposition party).

The Georgian media, particularly television, is concerned primarily about politics and not about the people’s needs. Related to this are the parallel players in the opposition doing their best to portray the October 21st municipal elections as a referendum for political change. As a result, we Georgians are bombarded with information and stories about the mayoral candidates in Tbilisi but receive very limited information about the candidates or local issues in other cities and regions of the country.

During the pre-election period no one talked about uniting the opposition and I suspect they had very good reasons for staying apart. However, what I see on the political battle ground is that Mr. Elisashvili, a journalist who won previous municipal elections in Tbilisi’s Saburtalo district and is the most competitive among oppositional mayoral candidates, is participating in these elections again as an independent player and thus acting in an audacious, “braveheart” way. Unfortunately, this is lost momentum for establishing a political party that can truly counter GD’s dominance of the Georgian political landscape. He should have had a different strategy in order to use his influence in an optimal way, especially when stakes are provisionally elevated before the auction starts. Only a few days remain until the election day so will he change his strategy? We will see.

Furthering the dullness of the election is the lack of female candidates. This is constant that has prevailed in all Georgian elections since independence (1991) and it remains true for the upcoming elections. This is ironic given that our polling data indicates that women, and in particular college educated women, will likely determine the outcome of the upcoming elections.

Nonetheless, the end result of these elections is extremely likely to be the same as during the last 15 years: near universal one-party rule (at the municipal level) across the country with the exception of the occupied territories. There are a few chances in which independent candidates may win in selected electoral districts, but the number of these outcomes will be small.

Official municipal election results will be known when the next printed version of this newspaper appears and unless something magical happens, the GD will be enjoying another sweeping victory. The same old story.

Nevertheless, not everything should be fully dull with these elections. To prove this, I had interesting discussions with Dr. Christopher Anderson, senior analyst at GORBI, about the deeper dynamics of the election. He also kindly assisted me in running a number of regression models using GORBI’s recently collected pre-election data. One of his ideas was to investigate differences between individuals who were born in Tbilisi vs. “non-natives” (i.e. born elsewhere in Georgia and who now live in Tbilisi) regarding self-reported likelihood of turning out to vote. There is much chatter on social media about the “preferred” origin of the next mayor of Tbilisi. A significant number of socially active people say that the city should be run by a person who was born in Tbilisi because he or she is better attuned to the issues the city faces. Yet, it turns out the data does not support this. In a representative survey of Tbilisi residents, we found no statistical difference between Tbilisi born and “non-natives” voters and whether a Tbilisi mayor candidate was born in Tbilisi or elsewhere – this does not impact their voting preference.

A more interesting result can be seen in the regression model below (Table 1). I understand it is not the usual presentation of data for a general reader, but this table shows that non-native born residents of the city appear to be more likely to report that they will actually to vote in the upcoming elections when compared to Tbilisi-born natives. The size of the effect is not huge: about half a point on a ten point scale (-.408), but it is statistically significant at 95% (meaning that we can be very confident that there is in fact an actual difference).

So, how do we interpret this finding? One could say that “non-native” born Tbilisi residents have democratic instincts that are a bit more robust than native born residents. Of course, to be careful, we should mention that just because a respondent tells us they are more likely to vote does not actual mean that they will. Regardless, this result should quiet those who say that non-Tbilisi born individuals could not adequately fulfill the role of mayor. Rather we have evidence that these “non-native” citizens are fulfilling their roles as citizens more adequately than the “native born”.

Naturally, there are other interesting areas to explore about elections and what drives and influence citizens to make their choices. I will be presenting more data in upcoming weeks that will investigate these questions in detail.

GORBI is a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients. Since 2003, GORBI remains an exclusive member of Gallup International research network for its two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. This data was provided exclusively to the Financial.