Monday, February 18, 2019

NGOs in Georgia: Low trust, high expectations? (Part 2)

As discussed in the first part of this blog post, the results of CRRC-Georgia’s survey conducted for the Georgian Civil Society Sustainability Initiative (CSSIGE) project in fall 2017 confirmed that both knowledge about NGOs and trust toward them is quite low in Georgia. This blog post looks at the inconsistency between low trust toward NGOs, on the one hand, and quite positive assessments of their activities, on the other hand.

The most frequent answer about the goal that, in people’s opinion, NGO members are pursuing in Georgia, is to help the population of the country in solving their problems (27%). The second most frequent answer, to receive funding/grants, was chosen from a show card by 16% of the population, and the third most frequent answer, to protect human rights in Georgia, by 13%. Thus, 40% believe the goal of NGOs is to help people in solving their problems or protecting their rights, which is an impressive share, especially given the low level of reported trust in NGOs.

When asked to assess the influence of NGOs in the development of Georgia, the findings are, again, counter-intuitive given the low level of trust. A majority (56%) assess this role as either “definitely positive” (17%) or “mainly positive” (39%), as opposed to the 14% who have chosen negative assessments (“mainly negative” according to 9% and “definitely negative” according to 5%). While 76% of those who report trusting NGOs quite logically say that NGOs’ role in the development of Georgia is positive, 5% assess this role as negative, and 13% answer they don’t know. A third of those who report distrusting NGOs assess NGOs’ role in the development of Georgia as positive and only a slightly larger share (39%) as negative.

Note: For the chart above, answer options “Fully trust” and “Rather trust” were combined into the category “Trust”, and answer options “Fully distrust” and “Rather distrust” were combined into the category “Distrust”.

It would be impossible to find out the causes of such inconsistencies without additional research. At this point, though, it is clear that both knowledge of and attitudes toward NGOs in Georgia are neither systematic nor coherent. Focus groups conducted for the same project suggest one possible explanation for this inconsistency – while not trusting NGOs, the participants’ dominant attitude was that NGOs would not do harm either. Moreover, a belief was reported that life in Georgia is better with NGOs than without them.

To have a closer look at the data, visit CRRC’s online data analysis platform.

Monday, February 11, 2019

NGOs in Georgia: Low trust, high expectations? (Part 1)

Over the last decade, people in Georgia have reported rather low levels of trust toward NGOs. At the same time, when asked during surveys to assess specific aspects of NGO activities, the answers have usually been positive. This blog post is based on the findings of a survey on attitudes toward NGOs collected by CRRC-Georgia in fall, 2017 for the Georgian Civil Society Sustainability Initiative (CSSIGE). The first part of this blog post looks at the most up-to-date data on knowledge of NGOs in Georgia and reported levels of trust toward them. The second part explores the inconsistency between low trust toward NGOs in Georgia, on the one hand, and quite positive assessments of their activities, on the other hand.

Less than a third of the population of Georgia (28%) report trusting NGOs. Most people, though, are either indifferent (37% “neither trusting, nor distrusting” NGOs) or cannot answer the question (17%). The reported level of trust toward NGOs is comparable with the level of trust toward the courts and political parties, with one notable difference: the share of those who cannot answer the question is highest when trust toward NGOs is assessed. This may suggest that people do not always have a clear understanding of what NGOs are for or what they do in Georgia.

To gain an understanding of how solid people’s knowledge of NGOs is, the following question was asked, “I will now name several organizations. Please tell me whether it is an NGO or not. If you have not heard of any of these organizations, tell me you have not heard of it.” Two out of the 10 organizations asked about did not exist in Georgia at the time of the fieldwork.

Note: NGOs are marked with one asterisk (*). Organizations that are not NGOs are marked with two asterisks (**). Organizations that did not exist in Georgia at the time of the fieldwork are marked with three asterisks (***). Correct answers are highlighted in green.

Of the organizations asked about, only the status of the Parliament of Georgia was correctly identified by a large majority (87%). It also had the lowest share of “Don’t know” responses. Over half of the population was correctly informed about the Labor Party, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), and the Rustavi 2 TV network. It is quite rare, however, that people consistently provide correct answers about all the organizations asked about. Leaving aside the answers about the two organizations that did not exist at the time of the fieldwork (“Association of the Unemployed” and “Society for Spreading Literacy”), less than 2% of the population answered about all other organizations correctly. This suggests that knowledge of NGOs is highly fragmented in Georgia.

As seen in the table above, the population has better knowledge about the status of six organizations: the Parliament of Georgia, the Labor Party; GYLA; Rustavi 2; Aldagi (an insurance company); and Transparency International – Georgia. Yet, the share of the population who named the correct status of all these organizations is only 16%. Below, this group is referred to as the “better informed population.”

Surprisingly, the better informed population does not report trusting NGOs in Georgia at a different level than people who are less informed about NGOs. These two groups differ only when it comes to the share of those answering “Don’t know”: while 5% of the better informed population responded so, 19% of the rest of the population did.

NGOs have not yet secured the population’s trust in Georgia. Still, the population reports rather positive assessments of specific aspects of NGO activities as will be discussed in the second part of this blog post next Monday.

To have a closer look at the data, visit CRRC’s Online data analysis platform.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

New Georgian study offers insights on Russian disinformation

[Note: This article originally appeared in Eurasianet.]

A study recently conducted by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers-Georgia confirmed widely held beliefs that pensioners and those with low levels of education are most susceptible to media manipulation. The findings suggest that Western efforts to counter Russian disinformation should focus on those groups in Georgia.

Another major finding of the study is that a solid, growing economy is perhaps the best antidote against disinformation.

The study, which was funded by USAID, was designed to enable policymakers to gain a better understanding of who in Georgia is susceptible to believing anti-Western disinformation. During the post-Soviet era, Georgia’s steadfast efforts to move closer to Western institutions, including NATO and the EU, have been a major source of tension in its relations with Russia. The two countries fought a brief, and from Tbilisi’s standpoint, disastrous war in 2008.

The CRRC-Georgia study can, in turn, help policymakers lay the groundwork for better-targeted Western initiatives to counter Russian disinformation, with the aim of reinforcing public support for Tbilisi’s embrace of Western values and institutions. Another aim is to foster a better understanding of attitudes and trends in order to reduce the odds that any new initiatives misfire and stoke the polarization of society.

CRRC-Georgia researchers pored over demographic data and developed an algorithm to hone their ability to predict whether individuals were at risk of being influenced or not by anti-Western disinformation; whether they already held pro-Russian or isolationist views; or whether they held pro-Western views.

The results showed that 55 percent of the sample size held pro-Western views, 36 percent of the sample size was ambivalent, uncertain, or inconsistent in their views and 9 percent held pro-Russian or neutral opinions.

The only mild surprise in the ensuing analysis was that a citizen’s residence in the capital Tbilisi was “no longer a significant predictor of at-risk status.”

Age is a major factor when it comes to consuming and believing disinformation: the older an individual is, the more susceptible he or she is to fake news.

“The results suggest that while one in five 18-24-year-olds are at-risk of being influenced by anti-Western propaganda, one in three people over the age of 65 are,” according to the findings.

Ethnicity also appears to have important implications for the effectiveness of disinformation. “Slightly under one in five people in predominantly ethnic Georgian settlements are at-risk of being influenced by anti-Western propaganda, while one in three are in predominantly minority settlements,” the report stated.

Those with a secondary education or better tended to be relatively impervious to disinformation, in terms of shaping attitudes about public affairs, the findings suggested.

Of those in the sample who were found to be at risk of being influenced by disinformation, many were worried about economic developments. “The economy may be a slightly more important issue for those who are at-risk, suggesting that messaging about the economy and actual economic improvement are likely to be important for this population,” CRRC-Georgia researchers wrote.

Russia’s weaponization of information has disrupted political processes in the West in recent years, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit campaign in the UK.

Policymakers in the West have only recently started to focus on crafting strategies that address Russian digital mischief-making.

The EU has invested in strategic communications aimed at countering Russian disinformation in Georgia and elsewhere. The CRRC-Georgia findings may help Western policymakers tweak initiatives so that they are more targeted, and thus, stand a better chance of achieving strategic objectives.

Efforts to counter Russian propaganda can take two broad forms – demand-side and supply-side. A supply-side strategy involves blocking disinformation at its source via the disabling of the source’s ability to distribute content. A demand-side strategy, meanwhile, aims to inoculate news consumers from the potentially pernicious effects of disinformation.

When it comes to the use of supply-side tactics, there are troubling ramifications for democratic societies that are built upon fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and access to information.

Given the supply-side dilemmas, developing demand-side initiatives that address issues relating to Russian state-sponsored disinformation would seem to offer a better, although potentially more difficult way forward.

Dustin Gilbreath is the deputy research director of CRRC-Georgia. The views expressed in this article represent the views of the author alone. The article was written within the auspices of the Russian Propaganda Barometer Project funded through the East-West Management Institute’s ACCESS program.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Georgians have more negative attitudes towards the Chinese than other foreigners in Georgia

Georgia is often famed for its hospitality. While the country is more tolerant of other ethnicities, relative to Armenia and Azerbaijan, it has also experienced a rise in nationalist rhetoric and movements in recent years. A number of incidents have also taken place, with hate crime directed towards immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities. This blog post looks at attitudes towards different migrant groups based on a survey experiment in the Caucasus Barometer 2017 survey.
On CB 2017, respondents were randomly assigned to be asked one of five questions. The basic text read, “In your opinion, will the foreigners that come to live in Georgia contribute to the economic development of Georgia or not?” In the other four questions, respondents were asked about Russians, Americans and Europeans, Chinese, and Turkish people instead of foreigners. Since each group was randomly assigned, it is possible to look at whether attitudes to any of these groups differ from foreigners in general without base lining effects (i.e. the respondent reporting their attitudes towards one group based on a comparison with the previous groups they were asked about).
Only 11% of Georgians think that the Chinese people who come to live in Georgia will contribute to the country’s economic development and 40% think they will not. In contrast, 23% think “Foreigners” without their nationality specified will contribute and 26% that they won’t. People are also relatively more negative towards Turkish people, with 32% reporting a negative attitude.

The above results suggest a relatively lower level of tolerance for Chinese and Turkish migrants relative to people from Russia and “Americans and Europeans.” The importance of tolerance aside, this matters for Georgia’s economic development. Turkey and China are important trade partners for the country, with Turkey consistently being one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in Georgia. Looking to the future, Georgia is likely to have more economic relations with China due to its strategic position along China’s New Silk Road project. A lack of tolerance towards these groups, if anything, will work against improving economic relations.
While the pattern is clear, the sources for the particularly negative attitudes towards Chinese people is less so. Have a hunch on the cause(s)? Join the conversation on our Facebook or Twitter pages. The data used in this post is available from CRRC’s Online Data Analysis portal.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Budget priorities are similar to people's spending priorities

Georgia’s state budget amounted to GEL 12.5 billion in 2018.  The Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs; Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure; and Ministry of Education and Science had the largest appropriations at 28.2% (GEL 3.528 billion), 14.5% (GEL 1.815 billion), and 9.5% (GEL 1.186 billion) of the budget, respectively. In the 2018 June CRRC/NDI survey, respondents were asked, “What are your top three priorities for spending, understanding it means cutting elsewhere?” Respondents were provided with a show card and allowed to name up to three answers. This blog post looks at whether responses match up with actual spending, and how priorities vary among different demographic groups.

Overall, healthcare was named most often, with 61% of the population reporting it was a priority, followed by education (55%) and pensions/social assistance (47%).  No other issues were named nearly as frequently, with support for SMEs and infrastructure being the next most commonly named issues (reported to be priorities by 12% of the public).

People’s views on budget priorities and the current state budget correspond to each other. Healthcare and pensions/social assistance (which are under the Ministry of Labor) and education had the largest share of the budget in 2018. Georgia’s population thinks that these spheres should be budget priorities.

While priorities generally match up with appropriations, who prioritizes different realms of spending? The data suggests that compared to young people (18-35) those who are over the age of 36 are more likely to name healthcare, perhaps unsurprisingly since healthcare spending generally increases with age. Women are also significantly more likely to report healthcare than men. Interestingly, ethnic minorities are less likely to name healthcare as a budget priority. These results are supported by a logistic regression analysis, which found each variable to be a significant predictor of mentioning healthcare.

About half the population (55%) report that education is one of their top three priorities. The data suggest people with tertiary education are more likely to name education as a priority for the state budget than people who have a lower level of education. Age also matters. People between the ages of 18-55 are more likely to name education as a top priority than those who are above 55. People who live in rural areas and ethnic minorities are less likely to name education as a top priority. A logistic regression analysis supports these results.

People 56 years old or more are more likely to name pensions and social assistance as a state budget priority than younger people. Compared to men, women tend to mention pensions and social assistance as a priority. People who think the economic situation is good in the country are less likely to name pensions and social assistance in their top three priorities for the budget. Interestingly, those who live in rural area are also less likely to mention pensions/social assistance as a budget priority.  These results are also supported by a logistic regression analysis.

The above data leads to two conclusions. First, the state budget largely matches up with people’s spending priorities. Second, priorities vary significantly between age groups, settlement types, sexes, and ethnicities.

To look into the data on the issue further, visit CRRC/NDI survey results and visit our Online Data Analysis portal.

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.