Monday, May 25, 2020

Why are Georgians nostalgic about the USSR? Part 2

Georgians are equally split in their evaluations of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. While younger, more educated, and wealthier Georgians are more likely to think it was a good thing, those with negative attitudes towards democracy, and those that prefer Russia over the West have more negative feelings. Although respondents named multiple factors to explain their dissatisfaction, these categories can be broken into broader constructs such as economic disarray and the political turmoil occurring after the collapse. This post further explores factors associated with positive attitudes towards the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In the 2019 wave of the Caucasus Barometer survey respondents were asked why they thought the collapse of the Union was a good or bad thing. About four-fifths of those who believe that the dissolution was a positive thing (41%) for Georgia did so, because the country earned its independence. Fewer respondents picked options related to ethnic identity such as better opportunities for sustaining language and culture (8%) or improved chances for a flourishing national culture (6%). Yet another broader category consisted of answer options related to civil liberties such as freedom of speech (7%), human rights (7%), freedom of doing business (3%), and access to consumer goods (1%).

Looking closer at the demographic characteristics of respondents, age and socio-economic status are good predictors of endorsement of the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a positive thing. Those with higher educational attainment are more likely to pick categories related to the country’s independence as an explanation for why the collapse was a positive event. Relative to those in Tbilisi, rural Georgians are less likely to name categories related to civil liberties.

Importantly, attitudes towards democracy and foreign policy preferences are associated with respondents’ endorsement of collapse of the Soviet Union. Respondents who think that democracy is preferable over other political systems are about seven times more likely to pick the identity category as a reason why the collapse was a positive event, controlling for other factors. They also are more likely to name national independence and liberties than other respondents. Respondents saying that Georgia is a democracy are fifteen times more likely to select categories related to identity, twice as likely to name independence, and ten times more likely to choose liberties as an explanation for their positive assessment of the collapse.

Those with pro-western attitudes have the highest probability of assessing the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a positive event. Such respondents are seven times more likely to identify categories related to national identity as a main reason behind their endorsement, almost four times more likely to choose independence, and about twelve times more likely to name liberties than those who are not pro-western.

Positive attitudes towards the dissolution of the Soviet Union are associated with socio-economic status and age. Those with higher educational attainment, more wealth, and younger people are more likely to evaluate the collapse positively. Similar to factors associated with nostalgia, positive assessment of the dissolution of the Soviet Union is highly correlated with feelings towards democracy and Western-leaning foreign policy preferences.

These blog posts have looked at factors associated with both positive and negative attitudes towards the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The data are consistent with the “winners and losers of transition” proposition as well as the political hypotheses explaining Soviet nostalgia. Those groups who would be expected to be losers of transition, such as less educated and poorer respondents are more nostalgic while respondents with higher socioeconomic status view the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a positive thing. As the political hypothesis of explaining nostalgia goes, Georgians with skeptical views on democracy are more likely to be nostalgic and vice versa. In short, both Georgian Ostalgie and anti-nostalgia reflect the long and winding road the country took through its post-Soviet transition.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Why are Georgians Nostalgic about the USSR? Part 1

Several surveys in recent years suggest that close to half of the Georgian public considers the dissolution of the USSR a bad thing. After nearly 30 years since gaining independence, why do so many Georgians look back with nostalgia towards the Soviet Union? Reasons for Soviet nostalgia in other contexts are usually associated with how people experienced transition from state socialism to capitalism. The economic hypothesis explaining nostalgia argues that a perception of being part either “a winner” or “a loser” of the transition is associated with nostalgic feelings towards the Soviet Union. Other hypotheses introduce politics into the equation. According to this explanation, those who reject democracy on ideological grounds are more likely to be nostalgic as are those who think that democratic institutions are too feeble in delivering state services. Are these explanations true for Georgian Ostalgie? This series of blog posts explores these and other potential explanations to Soviet nostalgia.

The 2019 Caucasus Barometer survey asked respondents whether the dissolution of the USSR was a good or a bad thing, as well as the reasons why. Respondents were considered nostalgic if they reported that the dissolution was a bad thing. However, it is worth keeping in mind the exact wording of the question when reading the analysis. Overall, 42% of the public think that the dissolution of the USSR was a bad thing, and a statistically indistinguishable share (41%) report it was good, leaving about 16% who were not sure.

When it comes to why it was a bad thing, by far, the most common reason is that respondents believe that people’s economic situation has worsened. And they’re not necessarily wrong.

Georgia had a particularly difficult economic transition during independence. Overall purchasing power is much higher today than before the transition, however, it only recovered to pre-transition levels in 2006 according to World Bank data.

At the same time, average purchasing power hides the high levels of economic inequality in Georgia. Inequality increased from an estimated GINI of 0.313 in 1988 to 41.3 in 1998. In 2018, it stood at 37.9 according to the World Bank data. Concomitantly social services were cut.

This likely explains why a majority of respondents that are nostalgic report that the economic situation has worsened to explain why they think the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a bad thing. The fact that some respondents directly cite a lower number of workplaces as a reason for believing that the dissolution was a negative thing, attests to this. The second most common reason is related to the conflicts that followed independence and the lost territories.

What sets nostalgic Georgians apart? A logistic regression model looking at attitudes towards democracy, Russia, political party preferences, and a number of demographic measures suggests a number of characteristics. Age is an important predictor, with older people being considerably more nostalgic.

Education also appears important, as individuals with more education are less likely to be nostalgic. Wealth has a less clear role, appearing only slightly relevant for overall attitudes, and more relevant when we look at those citing economic reasons for their attitude. This suggests that those who regret the dissolution of the USSR are those who suffered the most during the transition. This also suggests that as the economy improves and newer generations come of age, nostalgia towards the USSR may decline.

While age, education, and wealth are relevant, they are not the only factors. Attitudes towards democracy and towards Georgia’s orientation to Russia also seem to separate nostalgics from non-nostalgics. Those who believe that Georgia should forego NATO and EU membership in favor of closer ties to Russia as well as those who think that Georgia is not a democracy and that democracy is not necessarily the best form of government, are more likely to also believe that the dissolution of the USSR was a negative thing.

Similar patterns emerge when disaggregating the reasons for nostalgia, with wealth being more relevant for those who mentioned the worse economy as a reason for nostalgia. Interestingly, feeling close to a particular political party does not seem to be relevant for these attitudes, once other factors are held constant. One exception is when looking at identity-related responses for the attitudes. Respondents who feel close to pro-western opposition parties are less likely to believe that the dissolution of the USSR was a bad thing because ties with other nationalities became less common, travel to other former Soviet Republics became harder, or for people judging each other because of their identity. Ethnic minorities in Georgia are more likely to report these reasons than ethnic Georgians.

Nostalgia towards the USSR seems to be primarily related to an individual’s experience of the transition, and their current attitudes towards democracy and Russia. This connection might suggest that skepticism towards democracy and the West is related to individuals’ experiences of the transition. However, more direct analysis of attitudes towards democracy is needed to test this idea.
The next blog post looks at the characteristics of Georgians who view the dissolution of the USSR positively.

Note: The above analysis is based on a set of logistic regression analyses. Respondents were considered nostalgic if they believe that the dissolution of the USSR was a bad thing. Besides this, additional analyses grouped together the reasons respondents gave for their first answer to the question “Has dissolution of the Soviet Union been a good or a bad thing for Georgia?” The economic group consisted of respondents reporting worsening economic situation and a declining number of workplaces as a reason. The conflict group consisted of respondents reporting the war with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian civil war, and lost territories as reasons. The inequality group consisted of respondents who reported the privatization of social services, and the increasing gap in wealth between rich and poor as reasons. The identity group consisted of respondents who reported severed ties with friends and relatives, increases being judged due to identity, and more difficult travel to other former Soviet republics as reasons.

The independent variables are a positive attitude towards democracy, the belief that Georgia is a democracy, support for foregoing EU and NATO membership in favor of closer ties to Russia, distance of the respondent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, ethnicity, party support, age, sex, type of settlement (capital, other urban, rural), employment status, wealth, and education. The data used in the blog is available here. Replication code of the above data analysis is available here.

Monday, May 11, 2020

AI and Russian propaganda: it’s not what it looks like

[Note: This article was originally published in the On Think Tanks Annual Review. It was written by David Sichinava and Dustin Gilbreath. David Sichinava is the Research Director of CRRC Georgia. Dustin Gilbreath is the Deputy Research Director of CRRC Georgia and the Communications Manager at Transparify. The views presented in this article do not reflect the views of East West Management Institute, USAID, or any related entity.]

In the think tank world, talk about artificial intelligence (AI) is common. Using it is less common. One of the underlying causes of this may be a perceived lack of familiarity with the methods. However, AI methods – including machine learning – are probably more familiar to many thinktankers than they realise. The Russian Propaganda Barometer project, recently conducted by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) Georgia, demonstrates the potential of these tools in think tanks for policy insight – particularly relating to discourse analysis, and developing targeting strategies.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are more familiar than thinktankers think
To say that artificial intelligence in general, and machine learning algorithms specifically, is a dramatically changing industry would be an understatement. From optimising electricity usage in factories to deciding which advertisement to show you online, algorithms are in use all around us. In fact, algorithms have been shaping the world around us for decades.

The think tank and social science worlds are no exceptions to this. Indeed, most policy researchers will be familiar with, if not users of, algorithms like regression. Notably, this is a common tool in the machine learning world as well social science research.

Hopefully, knowing that regression is part of the machine learning toolbox will make it clear that machine learning is less foreign than many thinktankers may think.

While regression is one method in the machine learning toolbox, there are others. Although these methods are not new, this larger toolbox has only become commonly used in recent years as big data sets have become more available.

For many products and problems, machine learning solutions might be improvements on existing think tank practices. This is particularly true when it comes to developing a targeting strategy for programming, monitoring, or anything that focuses on understanding discourses.

The Russian Propaganda Barometer Project
CRRC Georgia implemented the Russian Propaganda Barometer project, funded by USAID through the East West Management Institute in 2018-2019. The project aimed to understand and monitor sources of Russian propaganda in Georgia, and to identify who was more or less likely to be vulnerable to the propaganda.

To monitor Russian propaganda, CRRC took all of the posts from public Facebook pages of potential sources of Russian propaganda (around 50,000 in total) in the Georgian language as identified by two other organizations working on the issue in addition to several pages missing from their lists. These posts were then analysed using natural language processing tools such as sentiment analysis. Network analysis was also conducted to understand the interlinkages between different sources.

One of the key insights from the project is that most of the sources of propaganda identified were in fact from far right organisations. While some of these are likely tied to Russia, an analysis of how they talked about the West and Russia suggests that most actually have more negative attitudes towards Russia than the West.

The analysis also called attention to the sharp rise in interest in the far right in Georgia. The number of interactions with far-right pages had increased by roughly 800% since 2015. While overall increasing internet use in the country likely contributed to this, it seems unlikely to be the only cause of the rise.

The results were presented in this dashboard, as well as a more traditional report. It enables users to see what the far right is talking about on a daily basis, and networks between different groups, among other metrics.

The project also aimed to inform a targeting strategy on countering anti-Western propaganda. To do so, we merged data from approximately 30 waves of CRRC and National Democratic Institute surveys that asked about a variety of preferences. From there, a ‘k-nearest neighbours’ algorithm was used to identify which groups had uncertain or inchoate foreign policy preferences. This algorithm basically identifies how similar people are based on whatever variables are included in the algorithm. Based on similarity, a prediction is then made about whatever outcome is of interest. This led to an algorithm that provided accurate predictions about two thirds of the time as to whether someone would be more or less likely to be influenced by Russian propaganda. Further research showed that the algorithm was stable in predicting whether someone was at risk of being influenced, using data that did not exist at the time of the algorithm’s creation.

The data analysis, while cutting edge in many respects, is not beyond the means of many quantitative researchers. Neither of us have MAs or PhDs in statistics: David is a geographer and Dustin is a political scientist.

While the Russian Propaganda Barometer addressed the research goals, we’d like to highlight that AI is no panacea. For the project’s success, we combined traditional think tank analysis of the situation in Georgia with AI to generate new insights.

The Russian Propaganda Barometer project is just one type of application of machine learning to policy research. There is good reason to believe more and more policy researchers will use these methods given their ubiquity in the modern world, together with the increasing availability of the large datasets needed to study these issues.  We hope that the Russian Propaganda Barometer project can serve as food for thought for others in service of this goal.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Perceptions of the Prosecutor’s Office

On January 19, 2020, Studio monitor and Radio Liberty released an investigative journalism film called “The Winner’s Justice.” It focused on accusations that prosecutors had not investigated the seizure of a luxury watch shop, the Albatros, from businessman David Begiashvili in 2011.

On March 4-23, 2020, CRRC-Georgia conducted a phone survey to find out attitudes towards the prosecutor’s office and whether people watched the film. The survey specifically focused on:

  • How much people trust or distrust the Prosecutors Office of Georgia;
  • How often people think prosecutors abuse power and make deals with judges or government;
  • To what extent the restoration of justice investigations were accomplished. 
Only 2% of the adult Georgian-speaking population of Georgia reported watching the film. The majority of those who viewed the film could not recall where they watched it. The rest of the respondents watched it either on Facebook or Radio Liberty’s website and found the film convincing or partially convincing.

Public opinion on the Prosecutor’s Office in Georgia tends towards trust. About half the public (57%) reported trusting the Prosecutor’s Office (19% fully trust and 38% trust more than distrust), 26% not trusting it, and 17% reported ‘don’t know’. This is an increase in trust compared with 2018 and 2019. However, it is similar to results from 2018.

Note: the question was recoded from 4-point scale into a 2-point scale. The answer options “Fully trust” and “Rather trust than distrust” were recoded as “Trust”; the answer options “Fully distrust” and “Rather distrust that trust” were recoded as “Distrust”.

The public is divided in how objectively the Prosecutor’s Office investigates and prosecutes cases about confiscating property. Slightly more than a quarter of people (28%) say that the Prosecutor’s Office objectively deals with cases about confiscating property. A similar share (26%) reports that cases are not investigated and prosecuted objectively. The plurality (43%) report ‘don’t know’ to the question.

Respondents were asked if prosecutors abused power frequently, rarely, or never. A plurality (36%) reported that abuse of power was rare, 20% said it was frequent, and 13% reported it never happened in Georgia. The rest of the respondents (31%) replied ‘don’t know’ to the question.

The same scale was used to ask how often prosecutors make deals with government. The plurality (39%) reported ‘don’t know’ to the question. Among the remainder of the public, 29% reported that prosecutors making deals with government representatives was rare, 20% said that it was frequent, and 12% reported that it never took place in Georgia.

The questions about abuse of power and deals with judges were also asked in a November, 2018 survey. The results about abuse of power have changed slightly between waves of the survey, with a decline in the share of people responding that prosecutors’ abuse of power is frequent and a decline in the share of people responding that it happens rarely. The share of people who reported that it never takes place in Georgia has slightly increased. More people also became uncertain.

As for deals with judges for favorable decisions, the results have not changed substantively between the waves, with a slight decline in the share of people who reported that prosecutors making deals with the government to have decisions favorable for them is happening frequently and a slight increase in the share of people responding don’t know.

The survey also asked people how free or unfree large businesses are from political influence. According to the data, 42% reported that businesses are free form political influence, 33% said that they are not free from influence, and a quarter of the population 25% reported ‘don’t know’.
The survey asked respondents about the “restoration of justice” that the Georgian Dream government initiated after coming to power in 2012. Officially, the process, among other objectives, was meant to return confiscated property. A plurality of respondents (36%) said that the restoration of justice was not accomplished. About a quarter (27%) reported that it was accomplished and 36% answered ‘don’t know’.

Overall, the public is relatively split or undecided in terms of attitudes towards the Prosecutor’s Office. Even though more than half of the population trusts the Prosecutor’s Office, more than a quarter think that they un-objectively investigate and prosecute cases about confiscated property and the plurality have no idea how objectively or un-objectively the Prosecutor’s Office investigates and prosecutes cases. Approximately one third of the population reports that they don’t know how often prosecutors abuse power, make deals with judges, or make deals with government to have decisions favorable for them. Almost half think it happens either frequently or rarely, and around one in eight think it never happens.

Note: The survey is part of the Promoting Prosecutorial Independence through Monitoring and Engagement (PrIME) project implemented by the Institute for Development of freedom of Information (IDFI) in partnership with CRRC-Georgia and Studio Monitor with the financial support of the European Union (EU).  The contents of this blogpost are the sole responsibility of CRRC-Georgia and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union, IDFI, and Studio Monitor.

The analysis above is based on the full sample and represents the Georgian-speaking adult population of Georgia, regardless of whether they watched the film or not. The phone survey was conducted on March 4-23 2020. It included 755 completed interviews. Its results are representative of the adult Georgian-speaking population of the country. The theoretical margin of error of the survey is 3.6% for estimates near 50%, 3.1% for estimates near 75% and 25%, and 2.1% for estimates near 10% and 90%.  Results discussed in this blog are based on all completed interviews.  The data are weighted to reflect the demographics of the population.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Who trusts the healthcare system in Georgia?

[Note: This article was co-published with OC Media. It was written by Rati Shubladze, a policy analyst at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]

Trust in healthcare institutions is important, especially during a pandemic like the current COVID-19 outbreak. In the name of public health, numerous individual freedoms and economic activities are restricted.

Without trust in the messages of public health officials, measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus are less likely to be complied with, exacerbating the spread of the virus.

The recent events surrounding attendance at religious ceremonies and healthcare highlights the importance of trust in health institutions. The tensions between the church and healthcare professionals, including a public verbal clash between a high ranking church official and the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, show this.

Indeed, despite recommendations from healthcare specialists to stay home, the Orthodox Church in Georgia still held Easter liturgy with parishioners in attendance.

This situation leads to the questions: who is more or less likely to trust healthcare officials in Georgia and does this trust interact with religious belief?

The 2019 Caucasus Barometer Survey provides some answers to these questions. The data was collected in mid-autumn 2019, before the current crisis. This has both advantages and disadvantages.
On the one hand, attitudes could not have been influenced by the current crisis. Therefore, the responses allow an understanding of who would be more or less predisposed to trusting healthcare institutions before the crisis and therefore who would be more or less likely to comply with healthcare institution mandates.

On the other hand, the data do not enable an understanding of how trust has changed in response to the current crisis.

At the time of the 2019 Caucasus Barometer survey, the plurality (43%) of Georgians trusted the country’s healthcare system. This is a relatively high level of trust compared to other institutions.
Out of 15 social and political institutions, the healthcare system was the fourth most trusted institution.

Further analysis using demographic variables, including settlement type, age, gender, employment, internet usage, minority status, and education suggests that males, those living in rural areas, ethnic minorities, and those that do not use the internet have higher chances of trusting the healthcare system, controlling for other factors. Other demographic factors do not show statistically significant differences.

Note: The original healthcare trust questions was asked using a 5-point scale. For the purpose of analysis, the options ‘fully trust’ and ‘rather trust’ were coded as ‘trust’ and options ‘fully distrust’ and ‘rather distrust’ were coded as ‘distrust’. The variables about ethnicity and Internet usage were also recoded. The minority status variable codes the following ethnicities as non-Georgian: Armenian, Azerbaijani, Russian, Kurd or Yezidi, other Caucasian, and other ethnicities. In the internet usage variable, options ‘at least once a week’, ‘at least once a month’, and ‘less often’ were coded as ‘less often’; ‘never’ and ‘do not know what the internet is’ were coded as ‘never’. 

Importantly, three of the above characteristics are interconnected, as minorities mostly dwell in rural areas of Georgia, and internet usage is least common in rural areas and among ethnic minorities.

Indeed, the higher levels of trust among these groups could be because minorities and rural people are more likely to trust public institutions generally.

Given the situation surrounding public health officials and the church, it is important to understand whether there are interactions between trust in religious institutions and healthcare officials.

Indeed, the Caucasus Barometer data suggest trust toward religious institutions is associated with trust in the healthcare system. However, the observed relation tells us more about the phenomenon of general institutional trust. The results are similar when the relation between trust in the healthcare system and trust toward other institutions, like the army, police, banking system, or media are examined.

A second way of looking at it that does not suffer from trust being correlated with trust is through looking at the association between frequency of attending religious ceremonies and trust in healthcare institutions.

Caucasus Barometer 2019 data suggest no statistically significant association between trust in the healthcare system and how frequently people attend religious ceremonies, controlling for other demographic factors.

Based on this, the church-going population appears to have been no more or less likely to trust healthcare officials before the COVID-19 crisis.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, trust toward the healthcare system was associated with where people live, ethnicity, sex, and internet usage. Religiosity did not appear to be related to trust in the healthcare system before COVID-19. Whether these factors still hold true remains to be seen.

To explore the Caucasus Barometer 2019 survey findings for Georgia, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis portal. Replication code for the data analysis is available at CRRC’s GitHub repository here

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Study suggests large numbers in Georgia to celebrate Easter in church

Note: This article was co-published with OC Media. It was written by Koba Turmanidze, President of CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.

Research by CRRC Georgia suggests that a large number of Georgia’s Orthodox Christians intend to celebrate at Church.

As Easter celebrations approach in Georgia, a study by CRRC Georgia suggests that a large number of Georgia’s Orthodox Christians still intend to celebrate at Church. The survey of Facebook users found that around 40% of people who usually celebrate Easter in Church intended to do so again this year despite the pandemic.

With Easter celebrations approaching, quarantine rules have become even stricter: driving of private cars has been forbidden and movement in and out of the four largest cities of Georgia has been restricted.

While most organisations are closed or are working digitally, the Georgian Orthodox Church has continued traditional services. Moreover, the church has refused to call on believers to celebrate Easter at home, and the government seems unwilling to enforce emergency rules on the Church.

Instead, the Prime Minister has hinted that it is the responsibility of citizens to stay home, while the churches should remain open. ‘I’m sure that wise citizens will guess that they should not place responsibility on the church and should not want to hear the call from the church – don’t come to the church’, he stated.     

This is not the first time government officials have used subtle suggestions, or nudges, with the goal of altering people’s church-going habits.

Earlier this month, Paata Imnadze, the highly regarded deputy head of the National Centre for Disease Control and Public Health also voiced a similar view.

‘I would like to address Christian believers. Let’s protect our mother-Church, and our priests, by praying at home and not going to church.’

While such nudges often succeed in changing people’s attitudes and even behaviours, CRRC Georgia’s research shows that in the current situation, this approach may not be working.

To test the impact of Imnadze’s ‘nudge’ on people’s intentions to go to church for Easter celebrations, CRRC Georgia conducted an experiment using Facebook’s A/B test tool.

The tool disseminates two or more announcements which will randomly show up in Facebook users’ news feeds. In this case, Facebook users were randomly shown advertisements to fill out one of the two versions of a questionnaire: one included Imnadze’s statement as an introduction to the survey, while the other did not. The two surveys were identical in every other respect. 

The randomised test was active for 72 hours from 11–14 April and reached 240,000 users, accumulated 22,100 clicks, and resulted in 7,560 completed questionnaires.

Of the 7,560 adults, 42% read or saw Imnadze’s statement before filling out the questionnaire. Analysis of the results did not show any impact from the nudge.

In the two groups, 16% reported that they would celebrate Easter in the church. As expected, far more respondents reported celebrating Easter in the church in the past (38%), suggesting that people have adapted their plans to the emergency situation.

Yet the nudge played no role: regardless of being in the treatment or control group, about 60% of respondents who usually would celebrate Easter in Church reported they would stay home this year, while about 40% still planned to go to church.

Importantly, there was no effect of the nudge across different demographic groups (e.g. men and women, older and younger people).

Further analysis looked at different factors that correlate with whether people changed their choice to celebrate Easter at the Church.

Respondents’ religiosity shows an unsurprising pattern. Frequent churchgoers and respondents who consider religion important in their lives were more likely to stay loyal to their past practise of celebrating Easter in the church than less religious respondents (i.e. those who go to church less frequently and consider religion less important).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, concern about the spread of COVID-19 makes respondents more cautious, and hence, more likely to change Easter celebration practice from church to home.

Women, people with tertiary education, and older respondents are also more likely to move Easter celebrations from church to home, whereas employed respondents are less likely to change their past practice of celebrating in the church.

While the survey gathered a large number of responses, the results should be read with caution.
The survey is clearly not representative of the population of Georgia, which is reflected in a different demographic profile of the Facebook respondents.

Unlike nationally representative surveys, the Facebook sample overrepresented women (82%), the employed (61%), the university-educated (65%), and younger people (the average age was 37). Moreover, it is hard to say whether the survey represents Facebook users in Georgia, since respondents self-selected into the survey.

Nevertheless, the group that saw and did not see Imnadze’s message on the survey were very similar, with identical demographic profiles. Hence, if the treatment and control groups answered the Easter celebration question differently, this could be attributed to the reminder of Imnadze’s nudge.

While it is not possible to exclude the possibility that the tested and similar nudges already impacted the respondents before they completed the Facebook survey, the findings still suggest that subtle suggestions are not sufficient to change people’s Easter holiday plans.

While a significant share of respondents changed their usual ways of celebration, a reminder of Imnadze’s suggestion did not change this.

Religiosity seems to be an obstacle towards adaptation to the current situation: while many believers and frequent churchgoers reported they would celebrate from home, many are still unconvinced and will likely help spread the virus this Sunday unless emergency rules are enforced on the Church as elsewhere in the country.

Monday, April 13, 2020

As COVID-19 sends political campaigning to Facebook, will polarisation increase?

[Note: This article was co-published with OC Media, here. The article was written by Dustin Gilbreath, Deputy Research Director at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Georgia or any related entity.]

With Georgia in an election year and traditional face-to-face campaigning out of the question given the COVID-19 outbreak, the importance of Facebook in Georgian politics is only likely to grow.

Facebook is an important part of Georgian politics. Political campaigns are fought, and public opinion thought to often be formed on the platform.

The Government of Georgia and the ruling Georgian Dream party found it so important that they even set up numerous fake accounts posing as news sources, some of which Facebook later took down.

The perceived importance of Facebook is likely well-deserved. Among the 70% of Georgians that use the internet at least sometimes, it is by far most people’s most frequent activity; 72% of the public reports that one of their main three online activities is using Facebook, according to the NDI and CRRC November and December 2019 survey.

Given this, the question emerges, do Facebook users in Georgia have different political attitudes than non-users?

An analysis of the November and December 2019 NDI survey suggests that they have relatively similar attitudes to other internet users with one key exception — Facebook users have stronger opinions on political issues.

This suggests that if political campaigning moves further onto Facebook, people’s views could become more entrenched leading to more political polarisation.

On the November/December NDI and CRRC survey, respondents who reported using the internet were asked how often they encounter political news on Facebook. Among the response options was, ‘I do not use Facebook’, which 8% of internet users reported.

Based on this figure and a question on internet usage, a third (31%) of the public report not using the internet, 64% report using the internet and Facebook, and 6% use the internet, but not Facebook.

To understand who was more or less likely to be part of these different segments of society, a statistical model controlling for age, settlement type, household wealth, education level, and sex was run.  The data suggest that Facebook users and internet users who do not use Facebook are more demographically similar to each other than those that do not use the internet.

The results suggest that people who use the internet but not Facebook are less likely to live in urban areas outside Tbilisi, are older (average age of 47 versus 39), and more likely to be male.

Those who use the internet but do not use Facebook compared to people who do not use the internet live in wealthier households, are more likely to have a higher education, are younger (average age of 47 versus 60), and are more likely to live in urban areas outside the capital and rural areas than in Tbilisi.

When comparing those who use Facebook to those who do not use the internet, the pattern is similar.

Given the large role that Facebook plays in politics in Georgia, it would be reasonable to assume that people who use Facebook and people who do not but are still online might have different political views.

To explore this issue, a matching analysis was used to identify individuals that are similar along demographic lines, except for the fact that they either use Facebook or they use the internet, but not Facebook.

The results show few differences. The two groups do not have significantly different preferences for political parties. They both also tend to assess government performance similarly. They are equally likely to report that they are going to vote in the next parliamentary elections. They are also no more or less certain in who they are going to vote for.

There is one important difference, however — people who use Facebook are more likely to express their opinions. People who use the internet but not Facebook reported they don’t know and refused to answer questions significantly more often than people who use Facebook in this survey.

This finding has a number of potential interpretations. It may suggest that Facebook is informing people about politics in the country, and therefore, they can respond to the survey questions, which focus on politics, more easily.

It could also suggest that Facebook is polarising in Georgia. People that use the platform are significantly less likely to report uncertainty on the wide variety of issues asked about on the survey, hinting at stronger opinions.

Aside from these potential explanations, caution is warranted in interpreting Facebook as causing these patterns. Another potential interpretation is that people who do not use Facebook but are online are more cautious in sharing their opinions in public.

This would explain why they refused to answer more often and are not engaged in a platform that thrives on people sharing news about themselves and their views on politics. However, working against this view is the fact that both groups reported equal comfort in expressing their opinion in a quasi-public forum.

Taken together, the data suggests that there are relatively few differences between people who are on Facebook and not on Facebook but still using the internet, with one key distinction. People using Facebook are more likely to express their opinions.

This may point to Facebook either serving as a tool to inform the public or as a source of division. Alternatively, Facebook may draw the already more opinionated and informed. Potentially, it is both.

In either case, if politics is increasingly concentrated on Facebook in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Georgian voters may become more informed and opinionated about politics. With stronger opinions, polarisation too may become stronger in Georgia.

Note: The data used in the above is available here. Replication code for the analysis is available here. In some cases in the above, figures may not sum to 100%. This is generally due to rounding error.