NDI POLL SHOWS ADVANTAGE OF GEORGIAN RULING PARTY AHEAD OF ELECTIONS
The Georgian ruling party – United National Movement (UNM) – has expressed its satisfaction with a National Democratic Institute (NDI)-commissioned poll, fielded by the Caucasus Resource Research Centers (CRRC) in June in Georgia, whereas the opposition coalition Georgian Dream (GD), led by Bidzina Ivanishvili denounced the poll results.
The NDI poll, released on July 16, covers the ratings of political parties and public attitudes regarding the most pressing policy issues in the country. It is based on a survey with the potential of plus/minus 2 percent deviation, and was conducted through face-to-face interviews with 6,299 respondents throughout Georgia.
The recent poll reveals several important trends especially in light of previous polls. Firstly, it shows that the UNM maintains a considerable lead over GD despite the fact that support for the ruling party has decreased from 47 percent in February to 36 percent in June. This 11 percent decline coincides with an 8 percent increase of coalition supporters over the same period. According to the NDI polls, the rest of the parties could not clear the 5 percent threshold necessary to gain seats in Parliament through party lists. Only the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) came close to the threshold with 3 percent. Overall, UNM, GD and CDM received 36 percent, 18 percent and 3 percent respectively, 22 percent of the respondents were undecided, 16 percent refused to answer and 4 percent supported none of the parties.
The second significant drift disclosed through the poll refers to public opinion about who might be the next president of the country. Although President Saakashvili can no longer run for presidency after his term expires in 2013, 6 percent of the likely voters still nominated him as a desired president, 22 percent and 20 percent propped up the unspecified candidates named by the ruling party and Ivanishvili respectively, while CDM leader Giorgi Targamadze gained 4 percent. 25 percent were yet undecided and 17 percent refused to answer.
In the section of Favorability, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava scored 60 percent, followed by Saakashvili with 58 percent and Vano Merabishvili, who was at that time the Minister of Internal Affairs, with 53 percent. These figures, therefore, do not reflect the changes in government taking place a few weeks after the poll was conducted. In the cabinet reshuffle, Merabishvili was appointed Prime Minister, replacing Nika Gilauri. This move might have had an effect on political ratings, especially taking into consideration the Job Performance section of the poll where Merabishvili, in his capacity as Interior Minister, leads over all other politicians with 49 percent, followed by Ugulava with 40 percent and Saakashvili with 39 percent.
Another set of important tendencies exposed by the poll relates to the elections, social issues and foreign policy. Importantly, the poll shows an upward trend in likely election turnout in the parliamentary elections since 2011. Seventy-five percent of the respondents said in June 2012 that they would vote if the elections were held tomorrow, in comparison to 51 percent in the September 2011 polls. While the February poll labeled voters lists as the most significant obstacle to conducting free and fair elections, the most recent one considers vote-buying as the most serious challenge.
Regarding social issues, unemployment remains a key concern for the population while territorial integrity and inexpensive healthcare are the second and third priorities. The number of supporters of Georgia’s integration into NATO declined from 70 percent in February to 62 percent in June while 70 percent support Georgian EU membership. Importantly, 44 percent of the respondents consider Russia to be “a real and existing threat” and 20 percent think that though Russia is a threat this perception is “exaggerated.” Moreover, 87 percent of the respondents dislike Tbilisi’s present relationship with Moscow.
Overall, the UNM appeared pleased with the new poll results as the party’s support was still substantial despite the fact that it had not yet formally launched its election campaign.
In sharp contrast, the GD coalition spokesperson Maia Panjikidze expressed her dissatisfaction with the NDI poll. “… these polls do not cause confidence … because we do not know the methodology of these surveys … and we do not know how the field work was carried out,” she said.
A few months earlier, GD even sent a letter to the U.S. ambassador in Georgia expressing doubts of the trustworthiness of NDI polls as well as the advisability of conducting them prior to the parliamentary elections. In response to the letter, however, the embassy stated that “We are confident that NDI’s polls … are conducted professionally and based on legitimate methodology.” Luis Navarro, NDI Senior Resident Country Director in Georgia, stated that through publishing political polling data, NDI seeks “to minimize the possibilities of misrepresentations or misinterpretations [of data]” and “provide maximum transparency.”