Monday, July 18, 2016

Environmental issues in Georgia: a concern for all?

[Note: This post was first published on Friday, July 15th at the Clarion.]

By Sacha Bepoldin

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) has highlighted that “Environmental decline adversely affects the health, well-being and livelihood opportunities of the individuals affected by pollution or natural resource depletion. Soil erosion, deforestation, the loss or depletion of animal and plant species limit the productive opportunities of vast numbers of people.” In Georgia, according to the 2009 National Report on the State of the Environment of Georgia and the 2012-2016 National Environmental Action Programme, the increasing number of natural disasters, chemical pollution of soils and progressing desertification, mainly in Shida Kartli, Kvemo Kartli and parts of Kakheti, are clear signs of man-made pollution. Both rural and urban inhabitants of Georgia are affected by environmental problems, albeit of a different nature. As public opinion data shows, people assess the importance of environmental problems differently. This blog post examines the salience of pollution as an issue for the settlement where people live and the relative importance of this problem compared to other issues, using the CRRC/NDI August 2015 survey.

One of the questions asked during the survey was, “Speaking of public goods in general, what are the three most important issues in your settlement?” Pollution was the fourth most frequently mentioned issue countrywide, after roads, water supply and gas supply. There are, however, differences in the frequency of naming these issues by settlement type. While pollution was the main issue in the capital, named by 44% of Tbilisi residents, it was named by only 7% of the rural population.

Note: The sum of answers does not add up to 100%, since respondents could name up to three issues. The charts in this blog post display only the five most frequently named issues at the national level.

At the national level, improvement of the water supply and roads are the public’s highest priorities in terms of budget spending, while pollution again ranks fourth. Pollution represents the highest priority for the population of Tbilisi, but only 1% of the rural population thinks spending on pollution should be a budgetary priority.

The rural population likely underestimates the importance of pollution and environmental issues in general. At the same time, a study conducted by the University of Gothenburg highlighted that degrading agricultural practices affect 35% of farmland in Georgia, which is already scarce due to the mountainous landscape of the country. As agriculture, according to official sources, is the main employment sector in the country, such practices threaten the lifestyle and economic opportunities of a large share of the population. Given the disconnect between lack of concern over this issue in rural settlements, on the one hand, and the likelihood that it affects the rural population, on the other hand, a communication campaign focused on environmental protection, especially in rural settlements, could help prevent further environmental problems.

To look through data in more depth, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis platform.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Who should Georgia’s closest economic partners be?

Reports on Georgia’s shifting public opinion of Russia and the West have been widely discussed on this blog and elsewhere. Focusing specifically on economic aspects, the Georgian population thinks both Russia and the EU have a greater influence on the Georgian economy than they should, although this perception is not necessarily based on the country’s actual economic relations with either Russia or the EU. More diverse economic partnerships and the population’s awareness of these partnerships could decrease this perceived influence. Notably, there are signs that many regional economic powers are happy to increase their trade with Georgia: with Iran looking to triple or quadruple trade with Georgia and China investing in Georgia as part of the new Silk Road initiative, new players are stepping into the Georgian economy. Iran and China aside, Turkey has long seen Georgia as a market for Turkish goods and a transit corridor to trade partners in Central Asia, especially now that diplomatic and trade ties between Russia and Turkey have deteriorated. This blog post looks at the Georgian population’s attitudes towards economic relations with several countries, using CRRC-Georgia’s survey on Knowledge and Attitudes towards the EU in Georgia (EU survey), which was carried out for Europe Foundation in 2015.

When asked to choose which countries or unions Georgia should have the closest economic cooperation with, people most often name Russia, the EU, and Turkey. The answers are, however, rather different by settlement type, as well as between ethnic minority and majority populations.

Note: While answering this question, respondents were asked to choose three countries/unions from a list of 14 provided on a show card. 

The choice of Russia for preferred economic partner is notable considering Georgia’s current level of trade with the country. While the share of exports to Russia has increased over the last three years, since Russia lifted the 2006 embargo on Georgian exports in 2013 and 2014, it still only accounts for 7% of exports from Georgia, and 8% of Georgia’s imports come from Russia. As expected, younger, urban dwellers tend to mention the EU as Georgia’s preferred economic partner more often, while older rural dwellers tend to mention Russia. Ethnic minorities mention Russia or Turkey more often than the EU. Compared to the population of the rest of the country, those living in Tbilisi are more likely to mention the EU and new economic partners like China.

The EU and Turkey, Georgia’s largest economic partners, are far more involved in the Georgian market, yet overall, fewer answered they would prefer them as the closest economic partner compared to Russia. While trade with the EU has doubled since 2009, fewer people mentioned the EU as a partner that Georgia should have the closest economic cooperation with in 2015 (47%) than in 2013 (60%). Ironically, the drop in 2015 coincides with the introduction of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) in 2014, which aims at increasing trade between the EU and Georgia.

In the same survey, a similar question was asked about countries or unions that Georgia should have closest political cooperation with. There is a strong statistical correlation between the answers to questions about political and economic cooperation, with Spearman’s correlation coefficients ranging from .623 to .754 when tested for Russia, the EU, Turkey, China, and Iran.

The majority of Georgia’s population still prefers Russia as an economic partner regardless of Georgia’s growing trade ties elsewhere. There may be a number of possible explanations for this finding, two of which seem quite reasonable. On the one hand, the population is likely not entirely aware of the diversity of Georgia’s trade relations and concomitant economic interests. On the other hand, attitudes towards economic partnership may be influenced by political attitudes.

To explore the data more, take a look at our Online Data Analysis platform.

Monday, July 04, 2016

How Georgia became an upper-middle income country

A year ago, on this blog, we took a look at how Georgia had likely become an upper-middle income country because of the 2014 census. On July 1st, the World Bank announced that Georgia had indeed changed income categories, moving from lower-middle income to upper-middle income. Given the change, we thought it would be worth re-posting the blog post from last year discussing how Georgia became an upper-middle income country:

An interesting implication of the 2014 census: Georgia is likely an upper middle income country

While Georgia has yet to be officially declared an upper middle income country by the World Bank, as a result of the 2014 census, it’s likely to be labeled one after the final census results are published in April of 2016. Interestingly, Georgia likely became one in 2013. Why is this the case and what are the implications? Let’s take a look using the 2014 preliminary census data and a population model developed by Ilia State University’s Giorgi Tsuladze published in a 2014 United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) and International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET) report.

The 2002 census was way off

In 2002, the Georgian government carried out a population census and found that there were 4.37 million Georgians. This number though was and is widely considered to be suspect. According to the 2014 UNPF report (and notably, Geostat employees at the time), the main problem with the 2002 census was its method of counting the migrant population. Specifically, the 2002 population count included 114,000 migrants who may have been permanently settled abroad rather than temporarily. This number may have been even higher considering that an estimated one million Georgians left the country between 1990 and 2002. Their family members who were interviewed for the census may have been reluctant to report that their relatives had gone abroad and instead reported them as temporary migrants or still in the country for a variety of reasons.

Not only was the census off, but so too were the civil registries which count birth and death registration. Between censuses, governments update population counts based on birth and death registrations, but because many births in Georgia happened and to a certain extent still happen outside of hospitals, births are not always registered. Also important are the lack of death registrations.

Recognizing these problems, Giorgi Tsuladze, a Professor at Ilia State University, made a downward adjustment of the population figure from the 2002 census, an upward adjustment to the birth rate, and a decrease in the estimate of the average life expectancy to estimate the population. In turn, his estimates of the population are quite close to what the preliminary 2014 census results tell us about the Georgian population – there are about 3.7 million people in Georgia (excluding South Ossetia and Abkhazia).

Geostat population estimate (thou.)Tsuladze population estimate (thou.)

Source: Tsuladze, G.; N. Maglaperidze and A. Vadachkoria. 2002. Demographic Overview of Georgia. Tbilisi, UNFPA. Cited in
Hakkert, Ralph, Gulnara Kadyrkulova, Nata Avaliani, Eduard Jongstra, Lasha Labadze, Maka Chitanava, and Nino Doghonadze. Population Situation Analysis (PSA) 2014. Rep. Tbilisi: United Nations Population Fund, 2015. Print.

Income classifications

The second important part of this story is understanding how countries are classified into income groups. The World Bank classifies countries by Gross National Income per capita (slightly different than Gross Domestic Product per capita – see here for exact definitions).

Countries with a per capita GNI of less than $1,045 are considered low income countries. Countries with greater than $1045, but less than $4,125 GNI/capita are classified as lower-middle income countries. Countries below $12,736 but above $4,125 GNI/capita are considered upper middle income countries, and countries above the $12,736 mark are considered to be upper income countries.

Since, a country’s income classification is based on the size of its population, and as we saw above, Georgia’s official population size was inflated by a fairly sizable margin for the past twelve years, Georgia’s GNI per capita (as well as GDP per capita) was underestimated.

Georgia probably moved from the lower-middle income to the upper-middle income grouping in 2013 when GNI per capita moved from from $3914 in 2012 to $4240 in 2013 (based on Tsuladze’s population estimates). In 2014, using the preliminary census data, Georgia’s GNI was $4489/capita. Hence Georgia has very likely moved income groups, barring a major miscount of the preliminary census data of roughly 330,000 people.

Why does this matter?

Well, it is good and bad news for Georgia.

To start with the bad, aid is sometimes distributed based on a country’s economic status. There are many other important factors at play (see here for a discussion of the subject), but nonetheless it is often considered in aid decisions. Hence, Georgia may expect lower levels of aid in the coming years as its per capita economic statistics are adjusted upward following the finalization of the 2014 census in 2016.

When it comes to the good news for the country, Georgians are doing better than the numbers suggested. This does not change the facts on the ground and widespread poverty experienced in Georgia, but in the long run it can lead to a number of benefits. For instance, foreign private capital flows may increase as the country may be perceived as a more enticing investment environment, having moved to a higher income category.

The upward adjustment will also be important for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration prospects. One of the key factors which the EU has identified as a barrier to prospective membership for countries in its neighborhood is low income levels, and as Georgia’s income level gradually increases, it will make Georgia a more attractive partner country. Notably, the lower population also means that per capita income is increasing at a higher rate than previously thought. In the short term, it may also help ease fears over migrant flight from Georgia (which is likely an inhibiting factor at present for Georgia in the EU visa liberalization process). It is important to note that if income inequality persists in Georgia, economic growth is unlikely to deter migrants from attempting to make their way to the EU, though a fuller treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of this post.

On the grand scheme of things, the adjustment is good as well. While not necessarily good for Georgia, countries in more dire straits may receive more aid that would have been aimed at Georgia. Better decisions about what kind of aid the country receives may also result from the more accurate data and income categorization.

Although we should not expect to see the official income categorization change to upper-middle until after Geostat has published the final census numbers and adjusted its population estimates for 2002-2014, it should occur in the next few years.

To take a look through the preliminary 2014 census results, take a look here, and for the estimates of the population size which this blog is based on as well as other interesting data and analysis on Georgia’s demographic situation, take a look at the UNPF/ISET report, here. Notably, Georgia is not the first and surely not the last country to have a major economic indicator readjustment based on something besides economic growth. Ghana and Nigeria both have had large changes to their economic indicators in recent years caused by how GDP was calculated rather than growth with interesting implications. Listen to this Planet Money story to find out more.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

CRRC’s Fourth Annual Methodological Conference: Research for Development in the South Caucasus

CRRC’s fourth annual Methodological Conference took place on June 24 and 25, 2016 in Tbilisi. Over 50 participants representing numerous institutions from seven countries attended.

David Lee, Chairman of CRRC’s Board of Trustees, opened the conference highlighting the importance of the issues discussed at the conference not only for the region, but also for the world.

The conference had a wide variety of workshops, such as Koen Geven’s  workshop on Causal Inference and Estimating Treatment Effects and  Julie A. George’s Methodological Approaches to Estimating Voter Fraud.

With four conference sessions focused on migration, politics, ideology and media, and gender inequalities in the labor market, the conference participants – academics and policymakers alike – had the opportunity to discuss the challenges with and ways forward towards generating more reliable knowledge on the issues.

CRRC-Georgia’s President, Koba Turmanidze, closed the conference noting that next year’s Methodological Conference will continue to focus on policy research and methodological issues, which can lead to better development policy in the region.

For more information, the full conference program can be accessed here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Perceptions of surveillance in Georgia: 2013 – 2015

In May, 2015 CRRC published a blog post about public perceptions of surveillance in Georgia. It showed that people in Georgia were concerned about their privacy when talking on the phone and when using the internet. Even though the current government criticized the surveillance-related legislation and practices of its predecessor, and, after coming to power, passed a new surveillance law, the new law did not change the situation much. Importantly, this law still provides the Ministry of Internal Affairs with direct and unlimited access to Georgian telecommunications data. Surprisingly for many, in March, 2016 government representatives themselves became the victims of surveillance, when videos from their personal lives were spread on social media. It is a sad irony that  surveillance practices became a “weapon” used against members of the government, who had largely ignored representatives of civil society's critiques of these practices.

CRRC-Georgia carried out a new wave of public opinion poll of the Georgian-speaking population of the country for Transparency International – Georgia (CRRC-TIG Survey) in April, 2015. The results show that, unsurprisingly, like the surveillance law itself, public perceptions of surveillance practices in Georgia have not changed much between 2013 and 2015. This blog post discusses the results of this poll and shows that in 2015, a majority of Georgians were still uncertain or concerned about surveillance practices in the country, feeling insecure when talking over the phone and browsing the internet.

As in 2013, in 2015 only about one fourth of Georgians reported feeling comfortable sharing a critical opinion about current political events in the country with a friend while talking on a cell phone. The remainder was either undecided or reported they would not share their views.

In 2015, only 27% didn’t think the government monitored their internet activities. Moreover, almost half believed that law enforcement authorities wiretap politically active citizens that are not criminal suspects, journalists, or politicians. As the chart below shows, a large share of Georgians think that the government wiretaps crime suspects, politicians, journalists and ordinary, politically active citizens.

These results are alarming not only because they indicate a public state of fear, but also because this fear could prevent people from being politically active and critical citizens. It could also discourage individuals from becoming journalists or politicians.

Even though the results discussed in this and the previous blog post presented public perceptions of existing surveillance practices in Georgia, as recent events have evidenced, these perceptions may not be far from reality. Therefore, public perceptions should inform the government about the potential weaknesses of their governance in this regard.

On a positive note, the Constitutional court of Georgia recently ruled that the current laws and regulations about surveillance are unconstitutional, and that Parliament must prepare new surveillance legislation by March 31, 2017. CRRC-Georgia will continue tracking people’s opinion on this issue and hopes that the new regulations will help Georgians to be more critical and active citizens who do not fear that the government is monitoring their activities.

To explore the CRRC-TIG survey data, please visit CRRC’s online data analysis tool.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Changes in the level of trust in social and political institutions in Georgia

The population’s level of trust in government and other institutions can be affected by many factors, and of course, may change over time. This blog post looks at how reported levels of trust in the president, local government, executive government, parliament, the army, healthcare system, police, educational system and courts have changed over the years in Georgia, using CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer (CB) survey data from 2011 to 2015 and NDI-CRRC polls.

The level of trust in most political institutions has declined in Georgia since 2012. One of the largest declines was in the level of trust in executive government, which dropped from 49% in 2012 to 21% in 2015. Reported trust in local government has also declined since 2011. There was a large drop in trust in the president since 2011, however, after 2013, it has increased by 10 percentage points. Since 2014, NDI-CRRC polls have shown decreasing support for the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition, which has a majority of seats in the parliament and forms the government. President Giorgi Margvelashvili, on the other hand, is quite distanced from the ruling party, is often criticized by the GD coalition and has made a number of critical remarks towards GD and its leaders. This may explain the discrepancy between rising trust in the president and declining trust in the executive government and the parliament between 2013 and 2015, although more research is needed.

Note: Answer options “Fully trust” and “Rather trust” were combined for the charts in this blog post. The charts only show the share of those who report trusting each institution. 

While there has been a consistent drop in trust in most political institutions since 2011, there is a similar albeit less dramatic decline in trust in the police and educational system. The healthcare system is an exception – trust in this system has increased by 16 percentage points since 2012. This may be in response to the introduction of the State Universal Healthcare Program in 2013. Notably, the performance of the Ministry of Labor, Healthcare, and Social Affairs is ranked among the highest of all ministries according to NDI polls. The level of trust in the army is consistently high. Trust in courts has slightly increased since 2012, although it has not returned to its 2011 levels.

Since 2012, the levels of trust in local and executive government, parliament, the educational system and the police in Georgia have declined. Trust in the president and the healthcare system, on the other hand, have increased. Trust in the army remains high.

To explore data on trust in institutions in the South Caucasus further, take a look at our Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Attitudes towards public opinion polls in Georgia (Part 2)

CRRC/NDI’s public opinion polls become the subject of intense discussions after the results of every wave of the survey are released, with politicians from various political parties criticizing the polls. Such a situation, though, is not unique to Georgia. As Professor Arthur Lupia recently put it, pollsters are a “popular whipping boy in politics”, yet they also “can give people a stronger voice”. In a previous blog post, we showed that attitudes toward public opinion poll results are mixed in Georgia, with nearly equal shares of the population trusting, distrusting, and neither trusting nor distrusting the results. This blog post shows that even though public opinion polls are regularly criticized in Georgia, there is still a public demand for them. 

CRRC’s 2015 Caucasus Barometer survey asked respondents to rate the level of their agreement or disagreement with the following statements:

“Public opinion polls help all of us get better knowledge about the society we live in”;
“Ordinary people trust public opinion poll results only when they like the results”; 
“Public opinion polls can only work well in developed democratic countries, but not in countries like Georgia”;
“The government should consider the results of public opinion polls while making political decisions”;
“Politicians trust public opinion poll results only when these are favorable for them or for their party”;
“I think I understand quite well how public opinion polls are conducted”.

Those who, while answering the previous question about trust in polling results, reported they did not know anything about public opinion polls, were not asked these questions.
Two-thirds of the population agrees with the statement that the government should consider the results of public opinion polls while making decisions, and nearly half agrees that polls help everyone to better understand the society they live in.   

Note: A 10-point scale was used to record answers to these questions. On the original scale, code ‘1’ corresponded to the option “Completely disagree” and code ‘10’ corresponded to the option “Completely agree”. For the charts in this blog post, the answers were grouped as follows: codes ‘1’ through ‘4’ were labeled “Disagree”; codes ‘5’ and ‘6’ were labeled “Neutral”; codes ‘7’ through ‘10’ were labeled “Agree”. Options “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” aren’t shown on the charts.

The share of the population who disagree with the statement that “polls can only work in developed democratic countries, but not in countries like Georgia,” is almost twice as large as the share of those who agree with this statement.

At the same time, people don’t feel they have a good knowledge of how public opinion polls are conducted. Only 36% report believing they have a good understanding of it. 45% also report that ordinary people trust the results of public opinion polls only when they like them, and 62% report the same in the case of politicians. Increasing knowledge of and trust in polls are clear challenges for pollsters in Georgia.

Whether people trust them or not, polls are important for society, and the results presented in this blog post show that people do acknowledge this importance. Polls help everyone grasp what society thinks, and the majority of the population thinks the government should consider poll results when making decisions.

To learn more about public opinion polls, take a look at earlier blog posts including Attitudes toward public opinion polls in Georgia,  Ask CRRC | Survey vs Census and Pre-Election Polls | what would be needed. To learn more about how CRRC collects data, take a look at this video or read CRRC-Georgia’s Research Guidelines