While elections bring citizens to vote on a regular basis thus fulfilling the minimal ̶ necessary but not sufficient ̶ condition for democracy, as set out by Schumpeter in 1942, petitions, demonstrations and various forms of organized protests are also an effective way for citizens in democratic societies to both exercise the power of the sovereign in between elections and to express discontent with elected representatives. These activities become more popular when other forms of institutional or civic channels are absent, dysfunctional, or alien to the majority of the population.
Georgia has had quite a rich experience with protests and demonstrations after independence in 1991. These have been mainly driven at efforts to change the government, although the last couple of years have seen demonstrations of a social nature with regards to LGBT (both pro- and anti-LGBT rights) and women’s rights. Authors like McAdams (1982) and Van Zomeran et. al (2008) use people’s perceptions of a movement’s efficacy to bring the expected/desired change, among other factors, in order to explain their willingness to participate in such movements. Thus, the more people perceive an activity as efficacious for the aimed outcome, the more they are willing to take part in it. Given the above, it is interesting to explore whether perception of efficacy of protest actions is equally characteristic for different socio-demographic groups, and if not – representatives of which groups are more inclined to perceive protests and demonstrations as efficacious and eventually take part in them in Georgia.
Using data from CRRC-Georgia’s 2014 survey Volunteering and civic participation in Georgia, funded by USAID through the East West Management Institute, this blog post explores who is more inclined to participate in demonstrations based on the perceived efficacy of actions. Efficacy is measured through agreement or disagreement with the statements, “For me, actions like holding peaceful demonstrations to demand something from the government are pointless, because the government will do whatever it wants anyway,” and “I think that holding peaceful demonstrations is important, because in this way the government is forced to take into consideration people’s demands,” which were originally two opposing statements offered to respondents. In tangent to these questions, the blog post explores how the answers of people with different levels of education, household economic situations and a background of recent participation in public meetings or political rallies differ based on perceived efficacy of peaceful demonstrations.
While there were minor differences in the level of perceived efficacy of demonstrations by gender, age and settlement type, visible differences were observed by level of education. The chart below demonstrates that the higher peoples’ level of education in Georgia, the more they tend to see peaceful demonstrations as an efficacious tool to affect government decision-making. Thus, 78% of those with higher education report perceiving demonstrations as important in forcing the government to take into consideration people’s demands, compared to 64% of those with secondary or lower education.
Note: Level of education was re-coded as follows: “no primary education”, “primary education”, “incomplete secondary education” and “completed secondary education” into “secondary or lower”; “incomplete higher education”, “completed higher education” and “PhD or Post-Doctoral” into “Higher”. Both here and in the following charts in this blog post, agreement and strong agreement with any of the two opposing statements offered to the respondents were grouped during data analysis. The option “agree with none of the statements,” as well as answers “Do not know” and “Refuse to answer” were excluded from the analyses.
A poor economic situation may also lead to belief in efficacy of and, eventually, participation in protest actions. Although one may expect that people who report that money is not enough for food and/or clothes are more likely to participate in a peaceful demonstration in order to influence the government in Georgia, survey data suggests that this is not the case. In fact, the worse people perceive their household’s economic condition to be, the less they are inclined to see peaceful demonstrations as an efficacious tool to influence the government. Thus, 42% of Georgians that report money is not enough for food see protests as pointless, compared to only 19% of those that report having a very good household economic condition (those who report they can afford to buy expensive durables or anything they need).
Note: In the question on household economic situation, options “We can afford to buy some expensive durables” and “We can buy anything we need” were combined during the analysis. Options “Do not know” and “Refuse to answer” were excluded from the analysis.
Although Georgians that participated in meetings and/or rallies in the past 6 months appear to be more optimistic than others in relation to the efficacy of demonstrations, roughly one in five people that reported previous participation do not see demonstrations as efficacious in influencing decision-making. Rather than pessimistic, as would be the case with those that have not tried to engage in such activities, this segment of active citizens may better be described as disappointed.
Note: Two different questions were used to measure participation in a political rally or a public meeting. During the analysis, the answer “Yes” to at least one of these questions was classified as “I took part in a political rally and/or a public meeting in the past 6 months” and the rest were classified as “I took part in neither a political rally nor a public meeting in the past 6 months.” Options “Do not know” and “Refuse to answer” were excluded from the analysis.
This blog post has shown that those that recently participated in public meetings or rallies, as well as more educated and wealthy Georgians perceive peaceful demonstrations as more efficacious in affecting government decision-making, compared to those who have not recently participated in meetings or rallies, are less educated and are poorer. If perceived efficacy of demonstrations would define choices on whether to participate in a demonstration or not, then one can expect the rich, the educated and the people that were recently active in public meetings or rallies to be the first to get to the streets for a demonstration.
How does this match up with your understandings of protestors in Georgia? Join in the conversation on our Facebook page, here.
To learn more about the data, check out the 2014 Policy, Advocacy, and Civil Society Development in Georgia report or refer to CRRC’s online data analysis tool.