Red or Blue!

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The FINANCIAL — Have you ever wonderedwhy the color of the United National Movement (UNM) is red while Georgian Dream (GD) is blue? Why not green and orange? It might be that red and blue offer a contrast, and they also symbolize quite different things. And, contrast is indeed what they eachseek. These two parties have dominated Georgian politics since 2012, and it is now difficult to recall thesubject theybuilta consensus around oreven one that theyhave tried to discuss.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), in its report on the 2018 Presidential Elections of Georgia, made the following statement: “the campaign was dominated by controversial topics polarizing public opinion, negative campaigning and harsh accusations between the GD and UNM”. The organization suggests the depth of polarization went even further after the first round of the elections: “Campaign coverage by the major media outlets became sharper and more polarized.In particular, TV Imedi announced it would actively work to prevent the UNM candidate from winning and used its primetime news and current affairs programmes to strongly condemn the UNM and its candidate.”

The OSCE refers topolitical polarization in Georgia, but exactly whatdoes this termimply?A widely accepted definitionnotesthe vast,aggregated ideological differences between parties and/or the electorate. Thus, to be able to highlight political polarizationwithin Georgian politics,a sharp difference is required between the dominant parties and/or theirsupportersideologically.

The Manifesto Project collects and analyses parties’ electoral programs (manifestos) in over 50 countries worldwideand accordingly determines their right-left position.


The methodology the project employs is the following: the manifestos are parsed into quasi-sentences (statements) and then coded. The codes refer to certain variables (e.g. centralization) and indicate the percentage share of quasi-sentences within a manifesto. The graph below has beenconstructed according to the data provided by the ManifestoProject.The y-axis indicates the left-right leaning position of a party according to the RILE-indexin whichhigher positive values indicate a right-wing position and negative values a left-wing position. A left-wing position isdefinedby the sum of frequency counts in manifestos favoring “State Intervention” and “Peace and Co-Operation”, “Democracy”, “Welfare State Expansion”, “Education”, and “Labour Groups”. Whereas, aright-wing position onthe scale is constructed fromthe sum of frequency counts supporting“Freedom and Human Rights”, “Military”, “Capitalist Economy”, and “Social Conservatism”. The final index is then calculated by subtracting the frequencies ofsuch left items from right items.The x-axis simply indicates the timeparliamentary elections were held.

The graph revealsthat both UNM and GD political positions, as reflected byelection manifestos, are inconsistent overtime. The UNM party,in terms of right-left leaning, has changed significantlyinevery singleparliamentary election, while GD has also showed some change, movinggradually right from a more left-wingposition.

It is difficult to judge based only on two observations, however it is still worthwhile noting the similarity in trends: in 2012, both parties tended to be more left-wing, while by2016they had both started to move towards the right.Thus, it seems that they actively try to converge with each other, which couldbe a predictor of the Median Voters Theorem, aphenomenon describedby Duncan Black. According to the theorem, in order to maximize the number of votes, dominant parties will opt for aprogram favored by the median voter.Why the median? Targeting the median voterensuresthe least relative distance to other voters,on average,inboth directions along the left-to-right ideological spectrum, whichtherefore maximizes their number of potential votes.This, subsequently,offersanincentive forparties to converge onthe median, and hencewitheach other.

To be able to apply this theorem toGeorgia, the median voter should also befluctuating quite a lot,which mightwell be true forthe post-Soviet transitional country, where littlepolitical and economic experience has yetaccumulated,and the electorate is still uncertainofwhich direction the state shouldtake.

Thus, if not ideology, what tool remainsto win elections in Georgia? The OSCE in its reportcharacterizes the 2018 elections by its negative campaigning and the harsh accusations between the UNM and GD. Instead of focusing on their own innovative ideas and policies during their campaigns, both UNM and GD chosetoportrayeach other as national enemies.What then can be the rationale behind this decision?

Certainacademic workshave claimed that creating enemy figures, and their images, are instrumental at the group level for increasing in-group cohesion. It hasalsobeen found that bonds are stronger when there is a shared dislike, rather than a fondness. Moreover, whenfighting anenemy, the means are more easily justified than in other cases, simplifyingthe rules of the game. Thus, in order to mobilize the electorate, political parties maybe more inclined to create enemies out of their opponents, rather than find ideological divisions.

We must ask of Georgian politics, is it political polarization we should discussor just the lack of political culture? It seems the later statement is more convincing, as the tool of winning elections is how well one can organize a negative campaign and not the fresh ideas and policies presented to the electorate. Consequently, we have one of the lowest voter turnout rates (53.88% on average) across post-Soviet countries.





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