Will Georgia’s leaders cohabitate with “new enemies” ?

Job approval ratings arrived in Georgia 60 years after George Gallup originally introduced this type of survey in the mid 1930s. They were conducted for the first time in Georgia following the 1991 presidential elections, itself a first for the country as it emerged from the dying USSR. Georgians have since elected a three more presidents, and without interruption GORBI has measured their public approval ratings. Until recently, these ratings served as a good yard stick of public trust in the existing system and thus a strong predictor of possible social and political unrest in the country. But today, these ratings are more than just about job approval and will reflect how the government tackles none political issues.

While the previous three presidents (Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Edward Shevardnadze and Mikhail Saakashvili) each enjoyed vast power and were formally the top politicians, current president Mr. Margvelashvili’s powers are much more limited due to constitutional changes, which gave greater authority to prime minister. According to these changes, the head of parliament is the second in command, though this remains a fuzzy area.

Certainly anyone who chooses to write about the top three Georgian politicians and where they fall in terms of rank and power should know where they stand. However, the honest answer is that I really don’t know. This confusion has come to characterize Georgian politics lately, with endless changes to the law constantly shifting real or perceived powers and responsibilities between the presidential institutions and other branches and state bodies. However, I am confident that I know the names of the key 3 politicians (K3). Just don’t ask me to arrange them in any neat political hierarchy based on constitutional responsibilities. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out soon, at least before the next presidential elections.

Job approval ratings of the K3 are presented below based on GORBI’s late August survey. Their names are sorted in the chart and table according to highest positive percentage points.

Chart 1: In your opinion how well or poorly does (name of K3) fulfil his duties?

Source: GORBI nationwide survey of 1,000 respondents. Numbers are given in %.

Over the last nine months, job approval ratings have declined for all three politicians. The prime minister lost less compared to the president and head of parliament, 10 and 17 points respectively. Moreover, the PM and the head of parliament still enjoy support of the majority of respondents and their net ratings (“doing job well” – “doing job poorly”) are positive (26% and 21%). Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating dropped under the 40% threshold, a somewhat ominous sign if he had the same Alfa male status of his three predecessors.

Table 1 presents cross tabulation data for each person by demographic questions. It is clear that the richer a Georgian is, the more positive attitudes he/she has towards the K3. Consequently, the poorer a respondent is, the more negative attitudes towards K3 he holds. Age is also an interesting factor, with younger respondents having lower positive attitudes towards the K3 compared to their older peers. The same is true with employed respondents, who feel more satisfied with the performance of K3 compared to unemployed respondents. 

Table 1: Jobs approval ratings (crosstabs %)

Source: GORBI nationwide survey of 1,000 respondents (later August 2014)

By the end 2014, I will present fresh data on job approval ratings and there shouldn’t be any drastic changes in the meantime. However, over the last few days we hear different rhetoric from officials, compared to the past (i.e., poverty and unemployment have now replaced Russia as our biggest enemies). The “northern” problem is well known, and has always consumed our focus and energies regardless of the name of elected president or the state of our interstate relations. The economic problems on the other hand have only documented by donors and in survey results, but they were never named as an actual enemy, even when newly elected presidents were presenting their 100 day action plans. These two are serious threats and challenges for the incumbent government, and neither the EU nor NATO can curb them. They require a true commitment and hard work – a very well known formula.

Recognizing these two as enemies only increases responsibility but unfulfilled promises could have a detrimental effect on the K3’s job approval ratings. An important prerequisite to tackle these challenges will be the need for a more coherent relationship between the three institutions. So far, the existing situation is mostly harming president elect Margvelashvili and his loss is not benefiting the other two key politicians. Also, despite ex president Mr. Saakashvili’s  alleged plot to return home from his Brooklyn hipster hangout  (as suggested in a recent NYT article), the threat to regain power seems less realistic, as no one truly thinks he could repeat the Hundred Days of Napoleon . Thus, fighting with only local enemies will (and should) remain top on the agenda.  

As a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients, since 2003, GORBI is the only Georgian member of the Gallup International research network to have over two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. All surveys were conducted on a national representative sample of 1,000 respondents; data retains a 3% margin of error, with confidence at 95%. This data was provided exclusively to the Financial. Please do not visit our site (www.gorbi.com); it is under construction.


Author: Merab Pachulia, GORBI


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