Monday, January 14, 2019

Institutions need to replace personality

[This article was first published on OC-Media.]

A fair amount of scholarship indicates that (dis)trust in political institutions provides an indication of how well the institutions work. Hence, trust in political institutions is an important indicator for the functioning of a democratic government.

Following this line of logic, one would expect that trust in institutions reflects the public’s trust in who runs them. Caucasus Barometer (CB) data from 2011 to 2017 support this argument.

Overall, the data indicates that trust in political institutions has declined since 2011. None of the political institutions asked about on CB (the president, local government, executive government, parliament, and political parties) received as high a level of trust on the 2017 Caucasus Barometer as on the 2011 or 2012 waves of the survey.

While trust has declined overall, the relative levels of trust have largely been in sync with the changes of power in the country.

After Georgian Dream came to power in 2012, there was an increase in trust towards the executive government (from 39% to 48%) and parliament (from 37 to 44%), the two institutions that changed political leadership.

Trust in the president continued to decline from 58% in 2011 to 28% in 2012 and 23% in 2013. All of these surveys were done while Mikheil Saakashvili was still president.

Trust in the president grew in 2015, the first wave of CB after the 2013 presidential elections, which ended Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency and brought Giorgi Margvelashvili to office.

Public trust in local government did not follow the same logic as executive government, parliament, and the presidency. Even though Georgian Dream won the 2014 local elections, trust in local government did not change between 2013 and 2015.

This could be due to the relatively weak public expectations of local government. Indeed, in 2013, only 4% of the public reported they had attended a local government meeting in the last year on a CRRC/TI survey. Besides low expectations, many local government officials had defected from the UNM to GD in the years since the change of power. Hence, it is not clear that the elections truly marked a change of power.

At the same time that trust in local government did not increase, trust towards executive authorities and the parliament declined as the popular glow surrounding Georgian Dream wore away. Trust towards the executive fell from 48 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2017. While 44 percent trusted parliament in 2012, trust fell to 22 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, trust in President Margvelashvili continued grow, which might be attributable to his de facto opposition to the ruling party, without defection to the UNM.

Trust in political parties has remained low and showed little change from year to year. It declined between 2011 and 2015, yet, trust in political parties does not appear to follow the electoral cycle as trust in institutions controlled by specific parties appears to.

Growing public mistrust toward political institutions in Georgia is a sign of weak state institutions in the country. Renewed optimism and trust in institutions appear to follow changes in political leadership, but without strong institution-building processes, optimism turns into disappointment.

While Georgian democracy has made consistent progress for the last three decades, transitioning from personality to policy driven politics remains a challenge for Georgia’s democratic consolidation.

This article was written by Kristina Vacharadze, Programs Director at CRRC-Georgia. The opinions expressed in the article do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia or any related entity.

To explore the data further, visit our Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Happy holidays 2018

This year, CRRC-Georgia’s carried out a wide variety of research on Georgia as well as the South Caucasus. If you’re looking for a social science read or a new dataset to play with over the holidays, here’s a few from CRRC-Georgia from 2018.

1. Knowledge and Attitudes of the Population of Georgia towards the Judiciary

What does the public think of the judiciary? Have the reforms of the Georgian Dream government led to increased trust in the courts?  This report looks at the knowledge and attitudes of the population towards the judiciary and changes between 2014 and 2018. To read the full report (in Georgian), click here, and to read a briefer version in English, click here. To explore the data, click here.

2. Countering Violent Extremism in Georgia: A Needs Assessment

This year, CRRC-Georgia carried out a needs assessment of communities that have lost members to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The needs assessment asked two primary questions. 1) What distinguishes communities that have lost members to the conflict and have not that are otherwise similar? 2) What do people in communities that have lost members to the conflict want for their communities? To answer these questions, CRRC-Georgia used a matching algorithm to identify the most similar communities in the country to those that have lost members and carried out a survey in both types of communities. To see what we found, click here for the report and dataset.

3. Anti-western Propaganda Barometer

What’s the far right talking about in Georgia? LGBT people. Well, not only that, but really, they are talking a lot about LGBT people, according to the new dashboard CRRC-Georgia built in 2018 which provides weekly updates and analysis of what far right groups are talking about on Georgian language Facebook using a variety of machine learning tools. To explore the data, click here.

4. Elections, elections, elections

On Sunday December 16, Georgia’s first directly elected female president Salome Zourabouchvili was sworn into office after winning in a second round run-off. During the first round of elections, Senior Policy Analyst David Sichinava and Researcher Rati Shubladze built, which provided analysis similar to Nate Silver’s 538 in the lead up to the elections. One aspect of the campaign that was widely commented on was its negativity. For the second round, in an article for OC-Media, Koba Turmanidze explained the phenomenon by pointing out that it likely worked, at least for the opposition. On election night, Deputy Research Director Dustin Gilbreath gave his hot take on the elections to Euronews, and David Sichinava summed up the elections the following morning also on Euronews.

5. Citizen Participation in Policy Formulation at the Local Level

Have a decentralization wonk in your life? Well, this is the report for them. As Georgia continues towards devolving powers to local administrations, CRRC-Georgia prepared this report on citizens’ participation in local government in Georgia to help inform local government efforts to transition into a more empowered role in citizens’ lives. To read the report (in Georgian), click here.

From CRRC-Georgia, we wish you a happy holiday season, and Social Science in the South Caucasus will be back in January. To stay up to date with what’s happening at CRRC-Georgia, follow us on Facebook or sign up for our monthly newsletter Data Bites.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Georgia’s imagined tolerance

[Note: This article was originally published in collaboration with OC-Media.]

Hate crime regularly makes the news in Georgia. The recent murder of Vitali Safarov, the harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has put the country in the European Court of Human Rights, and the 2013 riots on the International Day Against Homophobia all come to mind.

Yet, Georgians also pride themselves on examples of tolerance in the country’s history. This contradiction — pride in tolerance despite an apparent lack of it in many cases — is reflected in data CRRC-Georgia recently collected for the Council of Europe.

To understand attitudes towards different minority groups, the survey asked respondents whether they would approve of someone like them doing business with 24 different minority groups. Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people of ethnicities not traditionally associated with Europe or the Caucasus were generally less approved of than peoples from Europe and the Caucasus.

People with disabilities were the most approved of minority group.

The groups people approve of least were also the groups the public thinks are most likely to be the victims of hate crime and the targets of hate speech.

When asked how often specific groups are the victims of hate crime and the target of hate speech, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses topped the list.  When asked, who do you think is the target of hate speech most often in Georgia, LGBT people were named more often than any other group. The same is true of hate crime.

While these perceptions likely reflect the situation surrounding hate crime and hate speech to a reasonable degree, they are also likely mistaken to a certain extent.

For example, the vast majority of the public (91%) reports positive attitudes towards people with disabilities. In line with this pattern, only 2% of the public reported that people with disabilities are often the targets of hate speech and 2% the victims of hate crime.

Yet, as a person with a disability interviewed within the study stated, ‘Hate speech is part of our everyday life. Ingrained. Firmly established.’

It is not possible to generalise from a single interview, yet a gap between minority and majority perspectives on the challenges minorities face are not present only when it comes to people with disabilities.

The survey asked what the most significant issues a variety of groups faced were. While 41% of men reported that women faced no issues 28% of women did.  29% of ethnic Georgians reported that ethnic minorities faced no issues compared with 10% of ethnic Armenians and 12% of ethnic Azeris. 44% of Orthodox Christians reported that religious minorities faced no issues compared with 17% of Muslims and 20% of non-Orthodox Christians.

How the question was asked is important here. Respondents were provided with a list of potential responses and allowed to name other issues. However, that they face no issues was not part of that list, meaning that people actively reported the above groups face no significant issues rather than selecting one of the options from the list. If they face no issues was part of the list, a larger share of the public likely would have selected the option.

There are many plausible causes of the gap between minority and majority perceptions. A lack of contact between groups is one potential source. While this survey did not ask about contact with different minority groups, previous surveys show that those who are in touch with minorities often have more positive attitudes towards them (e.g. with LGBT people and with migrants).

A second potential cause is the portrayal of minorities in the media, which frequently contains hate speech.

No matter the precise reasons for intolerance in Georgia, these potential causes also suggest potential solutions.

First, increasing contact between minority and majority groups has the potential to decrease the animus people express towards minorities. Second, the media could remove hate speech from its discourse. Further, they could take the positive step of providing more detailed coverage of the problems minorities face in Georgia, thus directly informing the public.

Finally, highlighting the contradiction between Georgians’ pride in tolerance and the hate crime which takes place in Georgia all too often has the potential to encourage the public to question their own views.

Dustin Gilbreath is the Deputy Research Director of CRRC-Georgia. 

The views presented in this article do not necessarily represent the views of CRRC-Georgia. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of the Council of Europe or any related entity.

The data used in this article are available here.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Which questions do people tend to respond “Don’t know” to?

On surveys, sometimes the questions asked are hard for some people to answer. As a result, the answer option “Don’t know” is a regular part of any survey dataset. But are some questions particularly likely to elicit these responses? This blog post uses un-weighted 2017 CRRC Caucasus Barometer (CB) survey data for Georgia to look at this question.

The ten CB 2017 questions with the highest share of “Don’t know” answers are provided on the chart below.

Two patterns are present in the CB 2017 questions that people responded “Don’t know” to most often. First, unsurprisingly, the shares of “Don’t know” answers are higher to questions that it is reasonable to think a person would be uncertain about. Second, while only about one in five questions on the CB questionnaire aimed to measure political or economic attitudes, most of the questions in the top ten are such questions.

To have a closer look at the data used in this blog post, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis portal.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Pension reform is underway in Georgia, but only about half of the population is aware of it

On July 21, 2018 Georgian legislators approved an accumulative pension scheme, after years of discussion. As one of the requirements of the new law, employees with contracts who are under the age of 40 have to contribute 2% of their remuneration to the state-run pension fund, on a monthly basis. Although other employees are not legally required to do so, they may participate in the scheme voluntarily. This law is a first step in a larger reform of Georgia’s pension system. Opposition politicians have criticized the new law citing that it counters the country’s constitution as it introduces a new tax without a referendum. Several civil society groups also expressed criticism of the reform, questioning its legitimacy.

According to June 2018 CRRC/NDI survey that was conducted before the law was passed, only 46% of people in Georgia were aware of the proposed reform of the country’s pension system. People with tertiary education reported being more informed (57%) compared to the rest of the population. Although the new pension scheme primarily targets younger employees, young people were significantly less likely to have heard of the proposed changes (36%) compared to those who were older than 40 (53%). Ethnic minorities were also far less likely to know about the reform than ethnic Georgians (22% and 48%, respectively).

A majority were against the idea of mandatory contributions to the pension fund. If they had a choice of mandatory or voluntary contributions, only 17% would prefer the mandatory option, while the majority (61%) would choose the voluntarily option. Even people whose political sympathies are close to the ruling Georgian Dream party are significantly more likely to favor voluntary contributions compared to the mandatory ones.

Note: The full wording of the first question was: “There are several proposals regarding the pension reform. Which of these two proposals is acceptable for you? According to one of the proposals, employees under the age of 40 mandatorily contribute 2% of their salary to the pension fund every month. According to another proposal, employees under the age of 40 voluntarily contribute 2% of their salary to the pension fund every month.” For the question, “Which party is closest to you?” only first choice has been considered for the chart above. 

People in Georgia need to be informed better about the new pension scheme that was recently adopted. Importantly, it lacks public support even among those who feel close to the ruling party.

The data used in this blog post is available here.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Which groups in Georgia tend to support marijuana legalization more?

On July 30, 2018 the Constitutional Court of Georgia legalized the consumption of marijuana. But what was public opinion on marijuana legalization before the decision? In June 2018, CRRC-Georgia carried out a survey for NDI Georgia that asked: “In your opinion, should marijuana be legalized in Georgia or not?”

While 18% answered marijuana should be legalized, according to 74% it should not. Support for legalization was slightly higher among men, younger people (18-35), and Tbilisi residents. Attitudes did not vary by level of education.

While it is now legal to consume marijuana in Georgia, a large majority of the public was against legalization the month before it was legalized. Whether people’s attitudes have changed since or whether they will change as time goes on is, of course, the subject of future research.

To explore the data used in this blog post, visit our Online Data Analysis portal.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Views on marital (in)fidelity in Georgia

According to 86% of adults in Georgia, cheating on one’s spouse can never be justified, according to CRRC’s 2017 Caucasus Barometer (CB) survey findings. Another 12% also reported disapproving of cheating, but refrained from a radical “never” answer and choose relatively softer options. Only about 2% openly agreed, albeit with different strength of agreement, with the position that cheating on one’s spouse can be justified. While these answers are expected to be influenced by social desirability bias, they are still interesting indicators of views on marital (in)fidelity in Georgia. Importantly, the distribution of answers has been quite stable since 2011.

Based on the 10-point scale used in CB2017 to record answers to the question, “To what extent, in your opinion, can cheating on one’s spouse be justified or not?” a new binary variable was created for the analysis presented in this blog post, where those answering “Never” (code 1) are considered separately, and their answers are compared to the answers of those who chose all other codes from the show card, i.e. who consider cheating potentially justifiable although do this to varying degrees. Thus, the new variable compares those who report they would not justify cheating under any circumstances, and those who can either think of certain justification(s) for cheating or directly justify it. Answers “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” (less than 1% of the total) were excluded from the analysis.

Age, gender, marital status and settlement type would be expected to be crucial in exploring divisions of public opinion on this issue. Counterintuitively, though, the small differences in answers by age, gender, and marital status are all within the margin of error. On the other hand, people living in the capital, other urban settlements and rural settlements do answer this question differently. The population of Tbilisi stands out in its tolerance for cheating, with 22% reporting varying degrees of readiness to justify it.

Thus, it is not the basic demographic variables per sè that more or less divide public opinion in respect to (un)acceptance of cheating in Georgia. Living in the capital versus the rest of the country makes more of a difference. Although the majority of the population of Tbilisi reports that cheating on one’s spouse can never be justified, compared to the rest of the population of Georgia, twice as large a share of Tbilisi dwellers report at least some tolerance to marital infidelity.

To have a look at the Caucasus Barometer data, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis portal.