Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Half of Georgians believe COVID-19 is man-made

[This article was co-published by CRRC Georgia and OC Media on the Caucasus Data Blog. It was written by Dr. Tsisana Khundadze. Tsisana is a senior researcher at CRRC Georgia.]

As COVID-19 spread across the world, it was followed by a hurricane of (mis)information about the origins and nature of the virus. The novelty and scope of the virus gave birth to many conspiracy theories, but which of those took root in Georgia? 

An NDI and CRRC survey conducted in June 2020 asked questions about people’s beliefs about the origins and spread of coronavirus. The data suggest that while a majority of the population does not believe in common disinformation messages such as a relation between 5G technology and the spread of the coronavirus, only a small portion thinks that coronavirus came about naturally. 

Most people see some kind of human footprint in the creation and spread of coronavirus. 

According to the survey, around half of the population thinks that coronavirus was developed in a lab. Specifically, 30% thinks that it was developed in a lab and was spread intentionally and 22% believes it was made in a lab and spread accidentally. 

Only 13% of Georgians say coronavirus came about naturally, and around a third (32%) of the population is uncertain about the origins of this virus. 

A small portion (3%) even think that coronavirus does not really exist.

Besides this question, respondents were asked their opinion on the relation between the spread of coronavirus and 5G internet infrastructure, one of the most widespread pieces of misinformation that spread around the world

While only 10% said they think that 5G internet infrastructure is linked to the spread of coronavirus, almost half said they disagreed with this notion, and around a third of Georgians don’t know whether 5G and coronavirus are related. 

This shows that even though only a small portion of people believe in a link between 5G and COVID-19, almost half are uncertain, or at least not clear, whether this is misinformation.

To better understand beliefs about the origins of coronavirus, a regression model was constructed. According to the model, men are 1.3 times more likely to say that coronavirus was developed in a lab and spread intentionally, while women are 1.4 times more likely to think that it was developed in a lab but spread accidentally. 

Moreover, the more household items a person owns (a proxy for wealth), the more likely that person is to say that coronavirus was developed in a lab and spread accidentally and less likely to say it was spread intentionally. 

Those in the worst economic situation are 1.6 times more likely to say that coronavirus was developed in a lab and spread intentionally than people who score highest on the ownership index. The latter are almost 3 (2.8) times more likely to think it was spread accidentally than the former. 

However, no differences were observed between people in different age groups, settlement types, with different levels of education, those using social networks more or less often, with different employment statuses, or attending religious services at different rates.

Note: This and the following chart was generated from a regression model. The model includes sex (male, female), age group (18-34, 35-54, 55+), settlement type (capital, urban, rural), education (secondary or lower, secondary technical, tertiary), frequency of using social media (everyday, once a week or month, less often or never), employment status (employed, not employed), frequency of attending religious services (at least once a month, less often or never), and an additive index of ownership of different items, a common proxy for wealth. Besides demographic characteristics, social media usage was added into the regression model, because social media was named as the main source of information by 41% of the population. Religious attendance was included in the model, because, around Easter, it became clear that people who are more religious perceived the possibility of the spread of the coronavirus in a different way in Georgia.

As for the relation between the spread of coronavirus and 5G internet infrastructure, people living in rural areas are around 1.5 times more likely to think that 5G is related to the spread of coronavirus compared to people who live in Tbilisi or other urban areas. 

Similarly, people with higher than secondary education are 1.9 times less likely to think that 5G is related to spread of coronavirus, compared to people with lower levels of education. Yet, people of different genders, ages, employment statuses, and economic situations and those attending religious services and using social media more or less often hold similar views on the relation between 5G technology and coronavirus. 

Only a small portion of Georgia’s population actually believes that 5G infrastructure is related to the spread of coronavirus, though people living in rural areas and those with lower levels of education agree with this notion more. 

A solid half of the population thinks that coronavirus did not occur naturally and was developed in a lab. This part of the population is further split roughly in half in their opinion on the nature of spread. Men and people with worse economic situations are slightly more likely to think that coronavirus was developed in a lab and spread intentionally, compared to women and people with better economic situations, who in turn are more likely to think it was developed in a lab and spread accidentally.

For more data on people’s opinion and attitudes on issues around coronavirus see the dataset on CRRC’s online analysis tool.

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Rapid Gender Assessment of the Covid-19 Situation in Georgia

Last month, UN Women released the results of a Rapid Gender Assessment of Covid-19. CRRC Georgia conducted the research, which was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Joint SDG Fund. The project was part of a broader UN Women impact assessment initiative. The study that was conducted in mid to late May, looks at how the Covid-19 outbreak affected livelihoods, domestic and care work, and the mental and physical health of women and men in Georgia. The study also provides a glimpse of how women and girls with disabilities reflected on changes the Covid-19 pandemic instigated.

The study led to a number of findings, which are summarized below. The survey showed that:

  • While women were less likely to lose income, a plurality still reported receiving less money;
  • Ethnic minorities were hit harder by the pandemic, being more likely to report losing jobs than ethnic Georgians;
  • Women disproportionally suffered from increased unpaid domestic work. They reported spending more time on cleaning and cooking. Fewer women than men said that their partner was helping with domestic work;
  • Almost half of the respondents reported difficulties in accessing medical supplies for personal protection, with more women reporting difficulties.
  • The pandemic had a significant toll on mental health. Almost half of Georgians reported a decline in their mental health as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, women being disproportionally affected;

In-depth interviews with women with disabilities, female caregivers, and experts showed that:

  • Many women and girls with disabilities had to postpone routine tests and checkups, due to limited availability of services and travel restrictions;
  • While many service providers switched to telemedicine and online therapy, this was detrimental for children with disabilities in particular. This stems from the lack of basic infrastructure (internet access, computers, smartphones), and perceived inadequacy of services provided online compared to in-person care.
  • Women and girls with disabilities are worried about the high costs of medical treatment and transport, rising costs of medicine, and basic hygiene products;
  • As women and girls with disabilities are less likely to have their disability status registered, they have been deprived of state aid and services. This mainly stems from the stigmatization of disability in Georgia, especially when it comes to women and girls;
  • Measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, such as curfews and lockdowns, seem to have affected the psychological and emotional well-being of women and girls with disabilities;

The full report is available in English and Georgian. Questionnaires, data tables, and complete anonymized microdata can be accessed via CRRC Georgia’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Is Georgia really polarised?

[Note: This article was written by Dustin Gilbreath and Koba Turmanidze. It was originally published in partnership with OC Media on the Caucasus Data Blog. The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia, the National Democratic Institute, or any related entity.]

Talk about political polarisation in Georgia is easy to find. Some have suggested that the recent United National Movement (UNM) announcement that Saakashvili will be their prime ministerial candidate will only make matters worse. 

A new data analysis CRRC Georgia released on Tuesday suggests that this may in fact be the case. Data from several years of CRRC Georgia and NDI polling indicates that there are few ideological or policy issues that the supporters of Georgian Dream (GD) and the United National Movement (UNM) disagree about. Rather, attitudes towards politicians and political events are what divides, a fact the public intuitively recognises.

What is polarisation?

One of the more prominent definitions of polarisation in the academic literature suggests two defining characteristics: issue partisanship and issue alignment. 

Issue alignment means that views on different sets of issues are correlated with each other. For example, people who think that deficit spending is bad also think that raising taxes is, this would constitute an example of issue alignment. 

Issue partisanship means that attitudes towards a specific issue are correlated with the party an individual identifies with. For instance, if support for one party is correlated with support for marijuana legalisation, this would reflect issue partisanship.

When issue partisanship and issue alignment grow, polarisation results.

A third factor and pre-condition for polarisation is that partisanship, support for political parties, exists.

The pre-conditions for polarisation are not present in Georgia

To have polarisation, there needs to be two poles. Georgia’s political system has two main political parties that are supported in public opinion polls – GD and UNM. But the public is hardly divided between them. Indeed, only a minority supports either party, and the most common response to what party has almost always been no party in recent years.

Georgians are largely united on policy and ideology

The study looked at approximately 20 different policy issues varying from cannabis legalisation to banking regulations. In the majority of cases, there were no statistically significant differences in the data between supporters of the main parties in the country, the United National Movement and Georgian Dream.

Supporters of each party tend towards thinking the main issue facing the country is the economy. They also have largely similar foreign policy outlooks — pro-Western ones. There are no significant differences in terms of opinions on how the country’s economy should develop either.

On social issues and values, supporters of the main two parties also have similar outlooks for the most part — they oppose selling land to foreigners and cannabis legalisation. 

The data does indicate that supporters of the UNM are slightly more likely to support the protection of queer rights and be accepting of a son wearing an earring. Taken together, these suggest UNM supporters are slightly less conservative than GD supporters. Despite the slight difference, large majorities of both parties tend towards conservative views on both questions.

The explicitly political is divisive

While there are few policy or ideological differences between supporters of the UNM and GD, people do have different attitudes towards the explicitly political. 

UNM supporters are more positive about the Rose Revolution than GD supporters. GD supporters are more likely to think the electoral handover of power in 2012 was a good thing. Politicians from each party are more liked by the supporters of their party. 

Interestingly, the public largely recognises that it is politicians and the otherwise explicitly political which divides the country. From a list of 11 items on a 2019 survey, which included Russia, more people named politicians as dividing the public than any other institution or group asked about.

Taken together, there is an absence of evidence of polarisation in the data. Rather, it suggests personalisation is what’s at play in Georgian politics.

Replication code for the analysis presented in this article is available here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

How high? Georgia spends millions online on illegal drugs each year

[Note: This article was co-published with OC-Media on the Caucasus Data Blog. The article was written by Ian Goodrich, a policy analyst at CRRC Georgia.]

Drug users in Georgia spent over $1.5 million dollars online between February and August 2020, according to a new study into the darknet market, Matanga, conducted by CRRC Georgia. 

When compared to similar online markets in Europe, this figure is substantial, exceeding monthly dark web drug revenue for Spain and Belgium combined.

How does it work?

Transactions take place through an elaborate process, beginning with a user interface familiar to any online shopper. 

Users of Matanga can browse listings from their computer or mobile device, and make payments via the site, typically in bitcoin to maintain the anonymity of buyer and seller. 

Drugs bought online are not delivered, but hidden for collection throughout major cities of Georgia. Once payment is complete, buyers are given GPS coordinates and must find their purchases concealed in public locations. 

The study found that on an average day, substances worth approximately $35,000 are concealed throughout Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi, with around 90% of trade in the capital.

Why so much money?

The study estimates that around $250,000 is spent on drugs in Georgia via a single platform each month. 

This figure substantially exceeds estimates for most European countries and would make Georgia one of the largest dark web drug markets in Europe. 

Source: Christin and Thomas (2019). Prices are converted to USD at 1.19 USD/EUR. Excl. (†) CRRC Georgia (2020)

So why is the online market so big? The answer, in part, comes down to prices and measurement. Drugs appear to cost much more online in Georgia than in Europe. 

For example, a median gram of cocaine bought online in Georgia was sold at $200, compared to around $75 in Europe – over two and a half times the price. 

Approaches to sampling and measurement also differ between the two studies, complicating direct comparison.

Nonetheless, the size of the online drug market in Georgia is substantial by any measure and cannot be fully explained by the cost of drugs and methodological differences between studies. 

Whilst the online trade in drugs in Georgia appears to be large, the country’s drug-taking population is small by European standards. This means sites such as Matanga may be much more important in Georgia than they are in Europe, where online markets are understood to represent a small fraction of overall trade. 

This would be consistent with activity seen in Russia, where the darknet drug trade is also believed to exceed that of Europe by a large margin.

Drug policy in Georgia

Why then do so many drug users in Georgia prefer to shop online? The answer may lie in Georgia’s approach to drug policy. 

Despite recent cannabis liberalisation, Georgian law still mandates severe, long-term prison sentences for possession of small quantities of drugs. In this context, platforms which protect participants’ identities will be attractive. 

Matanga allows buyers and sellers to trade anonymously, without ever needing to meet. Sellers do not even need to hide the drugs themselves and recruit couriers to further distance themselves from transactions. 

In Europe, where markets are larger and penalties lower, online trade may be considered unnecessarily cumbersome by buyers and sellers. In Georgia, however, where both buyer and seller may face lengthy prison time for the smallest exchange, online markets may be becoming a normal part of doing business.

The views presented in this article represent the author’s alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity. 

The full report can be found on the CRRC Georgia website with source code and data available on Github.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Georgian parents are concerned about online learning

[Note: This article was co-published with OC Media on the Caucasus Data Blog. This article was written by Elene Ergeshidze. Elene is a Junior Researcher at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]

Georgia has postponed the reopening of schools in major cities due to a new surge in the pandemic, but what are the biggest concerns Georgians have with the education system?

Georgia’s new academic year started on 15 September, but physical attendance at schools and universities in major cities has been postponed until 1 October. 

Earlier this month government officials, including the Head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health Amiran Gamkrelidze, said schools were ready to reopen. But on 11 September the prime minister announced this would not be possible in large cities because of a record-breaking number of new coronavirus cases in the country. 

In response, parents recently started a petition saying ‘no to online schooling’, to try and push forward the shift back to face-to-face schooling.

Students in public schools in large cities have not attended education institutions physically since March, when the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Georgia. 

Through broadcasting live lessons for school children on the public broadcaster, distance learning became available for everyone who had access to a TV. 

Data from the period indicated that most in Georgia could access either TV or other online learning options. But, UNICEF Georgia recommended prioritising school reopening because of the negative effects of school absence on children’s health. 

In this context, what do people think are the main problems for the Georgian education system today?

The August 2020 CRRC/NDI survey asked respondents about issues that the education system is facing in Georgia. Respondents were able to name up to three answers and the most frequently mentioned issue was difficulties associated with online classes, which a quarter (27%) of respondents named. 

The next most common issues were low qualifications of teachers/lecturers (22%) and the high cost of university education (20%). 

One in ten (10%) of the population reported that there were no problems facing the education system and 19% answered ‘don’t know’.

Women were more likely to name a problem than men. A quarter of men (24%) did not know how to answer this question compared to 16% of women. Similarly, 12% of men report that there were no problems facing the education system in Georgia whereas only 8% of women reported the same. 

Who is more concerned about online education? 

A logistic regression suggests women were 15 percentage points more likely to report distance learning as an issue than men. Those living outside Tbilisi were eight percentage points more likely to report distance learning was an issue. 

Other characteristics such as age, level of education, employment status, internet usage, and wealth do not predict whether people named difficulties with online classes as a problem or not. 

These differences are perhaps unsurprising. Women are more involved in children’s upbringing and education in Georgia. Therefore, they probably have more information about issues surrounding the education system than men. 

People living in other urban or rural settlements compared to residents of Tbilisi are less likely to be able to access the internet, which is necessary for online learning.

At present, it is still an open question whether schools and universities will reopen on 1 October. Another question is how the quality of education will be affected as a result of the lack of face to face interaction, and who this will affect the most. 

What is clear is that a substantial share of the public is concerned about online education, even if they do have access to it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Do Georgians think the Prosecutor’s Office is biased?

[This article was published on the Caucasus Data Blog in partnership with OC Media. It was written by Eto Gagunahvili, a Junior Researcher at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]

The impartiality and effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office has come into question in recent years.

The Georgian public has been in a near-perpetual state of shock in recent years over a stream of high-profile criminal cases. In many of these, the impartiality and effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office has come into question, but what do people really think about this vital institution?

Cases like the Khorava Street Murders, the killing by the Security Services of Temirlan Machalikashvili, and most recently, the murder of 19-year-old Giorgi Shakarashvili have captured the public attention. 

More recently, there has been widespread discussion over the death of Tamar Bachaleishvili. The authorities suggest she took her own life while the opposition and some in the media have argued that foul play was involved. 

The media has widely covered these cases, often questioning the effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office. 

Between 30 March and 12 April, CRRC Georgia conducted a study on people’s knowledge of and attitudes towards the Prosecutor’s Office within the PRIME project.

Data from the study suggests that people tend towards thinking there is political interference in the Prosecutors Office. Yet, they are often unaware of some basic facts about the institution.

The survey data indicates that while few think the Prosecutor’s Office is fully under the thumb of political forces, few think it is entirely free either. 

Only 6% of the public said they thought the Prosecutor’s Office was completely free of political influence. By comparison, 11% thought it was not free at all. The remainder of the public said it was mainly free (39%), mainly unfree (21%) or that they were uncertain if it was under political influence (22%). 

Analyses of the above question suggest that age, level of education, and settlement type are related to people’s opinions of how free on unfree the Prosecutor’s Office is from political influence. 

People between the ages of 35–54 were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was free from political influences compared to younger people. Those with secondary or lower education were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was not free from political influence compared to people with higher education.

When it comes to settlement type, people living in rural areas were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was free from political influences than people in Tbilisi.

In December 2018, the Prosecutor’s Office was separated from the Ministry of Justice and became a fully independent agency. The study checked whether people knew where the Prosecutor’s Office was institutionally located and asked respondents which of the following statements was true: 

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Justice; 

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs; 

The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia is currently an independent structure.

The data shows that approximately a third of people (34%) did not know, and a third of people believe that the Prosecutor’s office was subordinated to the Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Internal Affairs.  People were also largely unaware of who the Prosecutor General is. 

The majority (64%) in Georgia did not know who the Prosecutor General is, and 2% reported someone aside from who the actual Prosecutor General is. 

A regression shows that people who do not know which of the above statements about the Prosecutor's Office was true were more likely to report that it was free from political influences. They were also more likely to report that they didn’t know the answer to the question. 

The public’s opinion is a mixed bag about the Prosecutor’s Office. The majority have no idea who the Prosecutor General is or whether the Prosecutor's Office is independent or a subordinated structure. 

Most people believe that the Prosecutor's Office is subject to political influence, though there is some variation between social and demographic groups.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Lockdown vs re-opening the economy in Georgia

[Note: This blog was originally published in partnership with OC Media on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint effort of CRRC Georgia and OC Media.]

As the number of new daily confirmed cases is again on the rise, we look at how people felt about the anti-coronavirus restrictions in May.

Aside from the public health situation, COVID-19 has led to rising unemployment, reduced incomes, and food insecurity in Georgia. As the number of new daily confirmed cases is again on the rise, the Caucasus Datablog takes a look at how people felt about the anti-coronavirus restrictions when they were at their height.

Despite polling from CRRC Georgia’s COVID-19 Monitor surveys showing that the public supported the vast majority of the government’s anti-coronavirus policies, the data also suggests people were eager for the economy to reopen. In fact, a majority said they favoured opening up over a more cautious approach.

CRRC asked the public about the relative importance of caution versus opening up the economy on two surveys conducted between 7–10 May and 14–17 May. Most people agreed with the idea that the economic impacts of COVID-19 were worse than the virus itself and disagreed that it was more important to wait for the virus to be under control than to open the economy.  

In addition, the share of Georgians thinking that economic consequences of the virus could be as severe as virus itself also rose from 51% during the 7–10 May period to 64% during the 14–17 May.

The data from the 14–17 May survey was further analysed to explore differences between socio-demographic groups like age, gender, settlement type, education, employment, ethnicity, and household wealth.

This logistic regression showed that people in Tbilisi were less likely to think it was important to wait for COVID-19 to subside before opening up the economy. Older people were also less likely to support waiting for the epidemiological situation to get under control. 

When it comes to the economic costs of COVID-19, there were no statistical differences between key socio-demographic variables. During the crisis, large shares were uncertain how long the COVID-19 crisis would last (35% in the 7–10 May period and 42% during the 14–17 May period). 

Uncertainty on this question was associated with the idea that the economic costs of the virus could be worse than the virus itself. Controlling for demographic variables from the previous model, those uncertain about the possible period of the crisis were less supportive of the idea that the economic costs of the virus were worse than the virus itself.  

Still, a majority of those who were certain or uncertain about the length of the crisis thought that the economic consequences were worse than COVID-19’s health implications.

Overall, the majority of Georgians were supportive of opening up the economy during the COVID-19 crisis, and this support was increasing during the period when the economy was effectively closed. 

The negative economic impacts of COVID-19 also gained more public attention during this time. 

In general, urban settlements were more supportive of re-starting normal economic activities. Older people were also more prone to agree with opening up. 

Besides socio-demographic variables, uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 timeline also shaped public opinions. Uncertain people generally tended to disagree with the idea that the economic costs were harsher than the virus itself. 

The data presented in this blog post is available here. Replication code for the above analysis is available here.

This article was written by Rati Shubladze. Rati is a policy analyst at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article represent the author’s alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia, or any related entity.