Monday, July 06, 2020

Georgians’ perceptions about equality at court

Attitudes toward the judicial system have been one of the most discussed and researched topics in Georgia. CRRC’s past blogs have shown that Georgians’ perceptions of court system fairness have been at low levels throughout the last decade and that attitudes toward court system (im)partiality are associated with rates of  trust toward the court system and people working in the court system. A recent CRRC study also highlighted division among the public regarding trust in judicial institutions. This blog post contributes to this conversation through describing views on the fairness of courts in Georgia, showing its broader inter-relations with trust in institutions, political views, and general perceptions of the government’s treatment of citizens.

The 2019 Caucasus Barometer survey shows that the majority of Georgians (63%) think that the court system is biased toward some citizens over others. However, the levels of agreeing with that statement vary across different demographic groups. A logistic regression suggests that people living in the capital, those with higher levels of education, and ethnic Georgians are more likely to think the courts favor some citizens, controlling for other factors. People in different age groups, women and men, the employed and those not working, those who use the internet more and less often, and those with more and fewer household assets do not differ in terms of evaluations of court impartiality. 

The belief that the courts are (im)partial is also associated with party support, trust in institutions, and people’s perceptions of whether the government treats people fairly. Controlling for the above social and demographic factors, Georgian Dream party supporters are less likely to agree with the statement that the court system in Georgia favors some citizens over others compared to people who support an opposition party. Those who do not report supporting any particular party fall somewhere in between. With institutional trust, controlling for other factors, lower levels of institutional trust are associated with higher levels of thinking that courts favor some citizens over others. People who think that people like them are not treated fairly by the government are also more likely to think that the Georgian court system treats citizens unequally, when all other factors are held constant.  

Note: The institutional trust index was created from the following variables: Trust in the Healthcare system; Banks; Educational system; Army; Court system; NGOs; Parliament; Executive government; President; Police; Political parties; Media; Local government; Religious institutions respondent belongs to; and the Ombudsman. A 1 represents the lowest level of trust, while a 5 represents the highest level of institutional trust. 

These correlations matter. People who support the opposition, trust institutions less, and think the government does not treat people fairly are all more likely to also think the courts are stacked against citizens. This suggests that people clearly view what should in theory be an impartial umpire as a political one in practice. 

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

Monday, June 29, 2020

The most important issues facing Georgia, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak

What did Georgians think was the most important issue facing the country prior to the COVID-19 outbreak? The economy. The current COVID-19 outbreak will shift perceptions surely. Yet, the measures to fight the virus have slowed down the economy, exacerbating the previously existing economic issues. While the economy has consistently been the most important issue for most Georgians in recent years, this headline figure hides some nuance. This blog explores this nuance, looking at who names a mixture of economic and non-economic issues as the most important ones facing the country.

The recent Caucasus Barometer 2019 shows that around 77% of Georgians name economic-related issues, like unemployment, unaffordability of healthcare and education, low pensions, poverty, rising prices, inflation, and low wages as the most important issue facing Georgia at the moment. When it comes to the second most important issue, a majority (71%) again name economic problems.

Note: The following answer options were grouped as economic: unaffordability of healthcare, unemployment, low pensions, poverty, unaffordability of professional or higher education, rising prices, inflation, and low wages. Non-economic issues include, corruption, unfairness of courts, unfairness of elections, violation of human rights, lack of peace in the country, political instability in the country, violation of property rights, low quality of education, problematic relations with Russia, unsolved territorial conflicts, religious intolerance, gender inequality, emigration, immigration, threats to national traditions, and other.

While economic issues are the most commonly named, many point to a mix of economic and non-economic issues. About half the public named only economic issues on the above questions, while 34% named an economic and a non-economic issue. In total, 9% named only non-economic issues. However, the trend has been changing over the last decade. More people started naming only economic problems in both answer options from 2010 (with the exception of 2013). Before this, Georgians named both economic and non-economic issues more frequently. Another outlier from the chart is 2008, when non-economic issues, including territorial integrity and security were named by a relatively high share of the population.

A regression analysis conducted on the results for 2019 suggests that, controlling for other factors, those living in the capital, women, those with higher education, and those that use the internet more often tend to name both economic and non-economic related problems a bit more often. There are no statistically significant differences between age, employment status, ethnicity and a wealth index, constructed from the ownership of a number of household assets. 

A number of variables related to a household’s economic situation are not associated with responses on the above questions, controlling for other factors. Households with more assets, people with jobs, and those that report needing to borrow money for food are no more or less likely to name economic issues alone.

Similarly to economic variables, preferences for different political parties are not associated with people’s responses on this question.

Economic issues are the most important ones for most people in Georgia. However, people are not only concerned with the economy. In this regard, attitudes vary across settlement type, gender, educational attainment, and internet use. Measures of socio-economic well-being and political affiliation contribute little to understanding what issues people prioritize. 

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Coming Together and Growing Apart: A Decade of Transformation in the South Caucasus

CRRC is excited to announce its 6th Methods Conference, which will be held on June 26-27 and open to public viewing over Facebook and direct participation through signing up here. The conference focuses on a decade of change in the region.

The last decade has seen broad political, economic, and social changes across the South Caucasus. In the previous ten years, events including Armenia’s 2018 ‘Velvet Revolution,’ the 2016 ‘Four-Day War’ in Nagorno-Karabakh, the region’s first ballot box-driven change in government in the 2012 Georgian parliamentary elections, the devaluation of the national currency in Azerbaijan, and volatility in relations between the European Union and Russia have reshaped the region. Such events have raised questions as to whether the three nations of the South Caucasus are growing increasingly apart, and if so, whether these changes reflect substantial divergence among societies or if they are simply an outcome of the interests of national elites.

The conference this year will contain five panels addressing these questions, two keynote addresses, and two roundtables.


Professor John O’Loughlin of the University of Colorado Boulder will discuss and Professor Julie George of Queens College and City University of New York will each deliver keynote addresses.


The conference will open with a panel on the results of the 2019-2020 Caucasus Barometer surveys in Armenia and Georgia, with papers presented on changes in trust towards institutions in Armenia following the Velvet Revolution, the Church’s scandals in Georgia as well as support for democracy and liberal values. 

The conference’s second panel focuses on memory, rites, identities, and values in the South Caucasus, and includes papers on language policies in the post-Soviet space, places of ritual and monuments in Armenia, and theoretical aspects of the World Values Survey. 

The third panel will discuss the political economy of transition, including papers on reforming governance in Georgia and Ukraine, how mining activities affect public health, energy markets in the post Covid world, and gig workers in the Georgian economy.

The theme of the fourth panel is democracy, parties, and civil society. Presentations will span issue such as Pashinyan versus the Karabakh Clan, national sovereignty with and without nationalism, and election monitoring in Georgia.

The final panel of the conference will focus on nationalism, with papers on Abkhazian nationalism, Georgian public opinion on conflict resolution in Georgia, social norms and human rights in Azerbaijan, and  how narrative, memory, and identity shape conflict in the South Caucasus. 


Aside from the conference’s keynotes, there will also be two round tables. The first will focus on challenges to the social sciences in the South Caucasus, while the second will explore issues surrounding data collection in light of Covid 19.

A sneak peak of the conference in the form of the conference’s abstract book is available here

The conference will start at 11:00 AM Georgia time on June 26 and 11:45 on June 27. To join us for the conference as an audience member, sign up here and to watch the conference during the event, visit our Facebook page.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Attitudes towards policing and the judiciary in Georgia

The world has seen large protests in response to the police murder of George Floyd, including in Tbilisi. Although Georgia underwent significant police reform following the Rose Revolution, the country’s harsh criminal justice policies were also criticized under the UNM, with police killings and the country attaining the ignoble distinction of having the fourth highest prison population per capita in the world. The Georgian Dream government also undertook a number of criminal justice reforms. Still, GD too have implemented controversial policing policies and had numerous scandals. Police murders remain an issue, police drove a boy to suicide in 2019 (and 2016), and for a time police in Tbilisi were implementing a policy resembling New York’s stop and frisk (notably, the UNM also attempted to do so). The police raid of the Bassiani night club and police violence in dispersing protesters in June 2019 were also widely condemned. Clearly, Georgia continues to face challenges with rule of law and law enforcement, ranging from misuse of power in criminal cases to general policing policy and crowd control during protests. But what does the public think?

In the current global and above noted local context, it is worth taking stock of what the public think about policing in Georgia and the criminal justice system more broadly. CRRC Georgia’s data suggest that the picture is mixed, with relatively high trust in the police on the one hand, and low levels of trust in the Prosecutor’s Office and Courts on the other.

When it comes to police, the institution is among the most trusted in Georgia. The Caucasus Barometer survey in 2019 placed them as the third most trusted institution, just after religious organizations and the Army, and just above the country’s medical and educational systems. Although medical institutions have likely become the most trusted since, given the country’s strong response to the Covid-19 outbreak, this still places police among the most trusted institutions in the country. In contrast, the court system was the third least trusted, finishing just ahead of parliament and political parties.

Although the police are among the most widely trusted institutions in the country, data from Transparency International’s 2018 survey on public policy, which CRRC conducted, suggest that the public is divided over some of the more controversial policies the police have implemented. About one in five people thought it would never be justified for law enforcement officials to stop and search cars and individuals, referring to a policy wherein police were searching large numbers in Tbilisi seemingly at random. A plurality (43%) thought it is justified sometimes, and 36% thought it was always justified. More controversially, 45% thought that the police plant drugs on individuals, while 35% disagreed. On drug policy, a majority thought that people should not serve prison sentences, which are quite harsh in Georgia, for the use of light drugs or club drugs. However, people do tend to think that a person should serve a prison sentence for the use of intravenous drugs.

Although the police are widely trusted as an institution, the Prosecutor’s Office is much less positively viewed. Recent surveys CRRC conducted in partnership with IDFI and EMC suggest that only 13% of the public think the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia never abuse their power. Similarly, only 13% say that prosecutors never make deals with judges to have favourable decisions. This data should be viewed in light of the recent processes surrounding lack of transparency of appointment of Supreme Court justices, which was roundly criticized.

In recent years, Georgia has experienced numerous issues with policing. Despite this, the public still generally trust the police, while often being critical of specific policies. In contrast, fewer trust the Prosecutor’s Office or courts. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Lost in the census: Mingrelian and Svan languages face extinction in Georgia

This article was written by David Sichinava and first published on OC Media, here. The views expressed in the article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.

On 21 February, Georgia celebrates International Mother Tongue Day, a day established by UNESCO to promote ‘linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism’.

Georgia is home to at least 11 languages on the brink of extinction, according to UNESCO. The Ministry of Education now offers classes to ethnic minority students in several small languages. 

This suggests that the state recognises the need to preserve smaller tongues, although, what languages need to be protected seems to be selective.

Three out of 11 languages that made it to the list of endangered languages are part of the Kartvelian linguistic family, which is closely related yet not mutually intelligible with standard Georgian. 

Two of them — Mingrelian and Svan — are mainly spoken in parts of Western Georgia, while Laz is native to the Northeastern Black Sea region of Turkey. None of these languages have standardised literary forms or strong written traditions.

Until now, there was only a rough sense of the extent to which Mingrelian and Svan are spoken in Georgia, as the government does not tally speakers of these tongues. Data from the 2019 Caucasus Barometer shows that these languages are still in use, albeit as colloquialisms. 

In the Caucasus Barometer survey, about 8% of Georgians named Mingrelian as the language which they use in everyday situations. 

Fewer respondents named Svan; on average, 3% of Georgia’s population uses it to converse with family members, friends, or colleagues.


Estimates for different settlement types are much less reliable due to relatively small sample sizes. For instance, the proportion of Mingrelian speakers in Tbilisi is somewhere between 1%–7%. The same goes for those who speak Mingrelian in urban areas — the data puts estimates between 5%–16%.

Still, the Caucasus Barometer survey shows that about 400,000 Georgians still use minor Kartvelian languages in everyday situations. 

Fears of separatism

Despite the number of native speakers in Georgia, neither Mingrelian nor Svan is recognised legally. None of the documents listed on the government’s official document repository,, mention Mingrelian or Svan languages. 

As noted above, there are no official statistics on the number of speakers. The last census recording speakers of Mingrelian and Svan was the 1926 Soviet census. 

The unclear status of these languages is illustrated by the anecdote of one Tbilisi resident who tried to register Mingrelian as his mother tongue in the 2014 National Census. According to an interview he gave to RFE/RL, census officials fiercely denied his request.

To a large extent, fears of separatism nurture these sentiments. A long-standing, popular opinion views recognition of the Mingrelian (and Svan) language as a potential source of increased separatist sentiments in these regions. 

These attitudes seemingly contribute to the Georgian government’s reluctance to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML). Sanctioning the document might oblige the country to recognise the existence of Mingrelian and Svan and to ensure their protection. 

While the charter underscores that it should not be interpreted as a threat to the status of official languages, some in Georgia believe to the contrary

Tbilisi’s worries of separatism are further exacerbated because the authorities of secessionist Abkhazia have encouraged the use of Mingrelian among Abkhazia’s ethnic Georgian population, even sponsoring a TV station broadcasting in Mingrelian language.

Despite such worries, the creation of a separate Mingrelian or Svan political entity has never enjoyed much popularity in Georgia, even among speakers of these languages. 

When autonomist movements emerged in the 1920s and 1930s amid Stalin’s korenizatsiya policy, the leadership of Soviet Georgia (including Lavrenti Beria, a Mingrelian himself) immediately curtailed them. 

Only fringe groups are currently advocating for political autonomy for Samegrelo. To the author’s knowledge, there has been no known group seeking political status for Svaneti.

Language activists step in

Activists in Georgia have continued to push for the preservation of Mingrelian and Svan languages — despite the government’s reluctance to do so themselves. 

There is a Mingrelian version of Wikipedia with about 10,000 articles. Books are printed and literary competitions are held in Svan

Most recently, the Association for the Preservation of the Mingrelian Language started publishing a magazine in Mingrelian.

Estimates from Caucasus Barometer show that at least 11% of Georgia’s population speak smaller Kartvelian languages. 

However, one recent study shows that younger people in Mingrelian-speaking communities have started shedding their linguistic identity in favour of Georgian. A similar pattern is also attested to in the case of the Svan language. 

In this situation, the reluctance of the Georgian state to preserve or even acknowledge the existence of Mingrelian and Svan endangers these unique languages. If this situation continues, soon there will be few if any speakers of minor Kartvelian languages left to celebrate the International Mother Tongue Day.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Are Lion’s Whelps Equally Lions?!

In Georgia, tradition has it that a son stays in the family and is responsible for taking care of his parents in their old age. Consequently, tradition also gives parents’ property to their sons. This limits women’s access to economic resources. New data from Caucasus Barometer shows that regardless of whether people think that a son or daughter or both equally should take care of their parents in their old age, many believe the son should still get the inheritance.

The data shows that people are either for equally distributing the house between sons and daughters or in favor of giving it only to the son. Daughters are rarely seen as the main heirs of the property. About half (52%) of the population believe that the apartment should be given to both children equally. At the same time, almost half of the population (47%) think that son is the main heir. Only 1% think daughters should inherit their parents’ apartment.

In contrast, Georgians overwhelmingly believe in sharing the responsibilities when it comes to caring for their parents. Three-quarters of Georgians believe that children of both genders should equally take care of parents, and twenty percent think that a son should take care of their parents more. Only 6% believe that the primary caregiver should be a daughter.

Most of those respondents (77%) who think a son should take care of his parents believe that property should be given to him. One fifth (21%) are for equal distribution, and only 1% believe that the property should be given to a daughter. Most people (60%) who think that both should equally care for their parents think that property should be distributed equally. Still, 37% think that the son should inherit and 1% that the daughter should. What is more, (55%) of those who believe that daughters should take care of their parents believe that property should be given to the son, while 40% thinks that it should be equally distributed. These numbers, however, should be treated with caution given the small sample of individuals that reported they think daughters should take care of parents in their old age.

Note: Answer options don’t know and refuse to answer are dropped from the analysis. Overall, less than 2% responded with these answer options to either question. The question “Imagine that there are a son and a daughter in a household; and the household only owns one apartment. In your opinion, who should inherit the apartment?” was shortened to “In your opinion, who should inherit the apartment?”

Further analysis shows that women are less likely to say that sons should inherit property than men. Tbilisi residents are less likely to mention that the inheritance should be given to sons than people in rural areas. Those in Tbilisi are also more likely to say that the inheritance should be given to all children equally. Those who have secondary or lower education are more likely to say that a son should inherit property than those with higher education. Moreover, they are less likely to say that all children should inherit property equally.

Note: On the above chart, base categories for each variable are as follows: male, 18-35 age group, should take care equally, rural, ethnic Georgian, and tertiary education. Answer options don’t know, refuse to answer, and other are not included in the analysis. 

The data shows that people are either for equally allocating inheritances between their children or giving it only to a son. Most people think that all children should take care of their parents equally despite their gender.  Taken together, this shows that gender equality in inheritance still has a ways to go in Georgia.

Note: The above analysis is based on a multinomial logistic regression analysis, where the dependent variable is responses to the question “Who should inherit the apartment: a girl or a boy?” The independent variables are gender, age group, ethnicity, settlement type, education, and conservative index. The data used in the blog is available here. Replication code of the above data analysis is available here.

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.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Appointment of Supreme Court Justices: What people in Georgia know and think about the process

In the beginning of September 2019, the High Council of Justice provided a list of 20 Supreme Court Justice candidates to the Parliament of Georgia for approval. In September-November 2019 parliament conducted the hearing process for candidates, and on December 12th 2020 14 candidates were appointed to Supreme Court. The Georgian media covered the process extensively.

But, what does the public in Georgia know about the process of appointment of the Supreme Court Justices, and what is their attitude towards the newly appointed justices and judicial institutions? A phone survey conducted on January 30 - February 10, 2020 suggests that people in Georgia are divided between trusting and distrusting judicial institutions. While more than half of the public have heard about the Supreme Court appointment process, they have little trust in it, and largely have not heard of the new justices.

The majority of the Georgian speaking population (63%) reports that they have heard about the hearings in parliament for Supreme Court candidates, and more than half of the population (54%) says that they are aware of the outcomes of the hearings.  More than half (55%) of those who have heard about the appointments report that they do not trust the process. Similarly, more than half (53%) of the people who had heard of the process think that parliament carried out the appointment process unfairly.

The survey asked respondents whether justice will improve, stay the same or get worse if the candidates were appointed as Supreme Court Justices. About one fourth of the adult Georgian speaking population (26%) reported that the appointment of the 14 candidates will improve justice in the country, the same share (26%) think that the state of justice will stay the same. About a fifth of the population (20%) believe it will get worse. The remainder either did not know or refused to answer the question.  A similar question was asked on a September 2019 survey: “If these 20 candidates are appointed to the Supreme Court, do you think justice in Georgia will improve, stay the same or get worse?” The results have not changed substantively between waves of the survey, with a slight decline in the share responding don’t know and slight increase in the share responding it would have a positive impact.

The survey asked the respondents who were aware of the appointment process to share their first association about it. Almost one third (32%) did not provided any association, responding don’t know. The top five associations included “Unfairness” (14%), “Distrust” (14%), “Biased” (5%), “Fight” (5%), and “Open process” (4%). Overall, 11% reported a positive association, while 53% reported a negative one. One percent of responses were neutral. Two percent of population refused to answer the question.

The survey asked about whether each candidate should or should not be appointed to the Supreme Court. Most people had not heard about the candidates.  Approximately one tenth of the population approved of the appointments of Nino Kadagidze (11%), Giorgi Mikautadze, (11%), and Shalva Tadumadze (10%). All other candidates had lower levels of approval.

Respondents were asked to name the most important events of the Autumn/Winter, 2019-2020, but were allowed to name up to 3 events. Only 3% of Georgian-speaking adult population named the appointment process of Supreme Court justices. The most commonly named events were the protests in response to the failure to pass a proportional electoral system (13%), Dr. Vaja Gaprindashvili’s abduction (10%), and the mass arrests of the aforementioned rally participants (10%). Half of respondents (49%) could not identify a most important event during the period. 

The public is divided in whether they trust the High Council of Justice, Supreme Court, and the court system in general. The chart below shows that about half of the public trusts and distrusts each of these institutions. This result has not changed since September, when the same questions were asked on another survey.

The public is divided in their trust towards judicial institutions, such as the High Council of Justice, Supreme Court, and the court system in general.  More than half of the population has heard of the Supreme Court justice appointment process, however most of them do not trust the process and believe that the Parliament of Georgia did not lead the appointment process fairly. Despite this, few people found the Supreme Court appointment process to be among the most important events of the Autumn/Winter of 2019-2020. The majority of people in Georgia say that they have never heard about the candidates.  Among those who are aware of the appointment process, attitudes are more negative than positive.

Note: This blog post has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of CRRC-Georgia, EMC, and IDFI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

On January 30- February 10, 2020, within the EU-funded project “Facilitating Implementation of Reforms in the Judiciary (FAIR)”, CRRC-Georgia conducted a phone survey to understand people’s knowledge of and attitudes towards the Supreme Court  appointment process. The survey resulted in 766 completed interviews, and is representative of the adult Georgian-speaking population of the country. The theoretical margin of error of the survey is 3.5% for estimates near 50%, 3.1% for estimates near 75% and 25%, and 2.1% for estimates near 10% and 90%.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

How think tanks can support the COVID-19 response through survey data

[Note: This article was originally published at On Think Tanks. It was written by CRRC Georgia's deputy research director, Dustin Gilbreath. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]

COVID-19 is likely to be the largest challenge the world has faced since the Second World War. In the last two weeks, unemployment claims in the US have exceeded the highest number recorded during the great recession. And the virus is expanding at an exponential rate. While some governments have responded in a generally effective manner (for example Georgia), many have been laggards in their response.

Just as think tanks played a critical role in the aftermath of the Second World War, they too can play a role in supporting governments through and after the present crisis. Providing accurate, timely, and actionable quantitative research is one such way that think tanks could provide immediate support to response efforts. While John Hopkins University is mapping COVID-19 data to enable an understanding of the virus’s spread, there is a clear need for data on a wide array of other issues.

Here I run through some of the main challenges and areas in which governments will need data to inform their response, and share a research proposal concept note, in the hope that it will support other think tanks to develop their own proposals and work towards better-informed solutions faster.

Social measures to contain the virus

At present, the main challenge facing the world is containing the virus. While this is a medical phenomenon, it is also clearly a social one. Indeed, social distancing and self-isolation are the key strategies being promoted at the moment. For these to be effective, however, compliance is critical. Public opinion polls have the potential to not only estimate levels of awareness of important practices, but also which groups are more or less likely to comply with them. With this public opinion data, government efforts can be more targeted at encouraging social distancing and isolation among different groups.

Economic consequences
The economic downturn is the second major issue the world faces. With all but essential businesses shutting down in many countries, and lower consumer demand across a wide range of sectors even if businesses remain open, the world is clearly headed for recession. But how many people have lost jobs? And in which sectors? Which regions have been hardest hit? Again, public opinion polls can provide estimates for all of these.

Governments traditionally rely on large samples of face to face interviews for economic statistics. This means that economic data is unlikely to be forthcoming in the near future. In its place, telephone surveys have the potential to provide a reasonably accurate understanding of how many people are out of work or facing issues around food security, among other economic issues.

Cross-cutting issues
Aside from containing the virus and the economic collapse directly, polling has the potential to address a wide range of cross-cutting issues, from gender divisions in care work to Russian propaganda.

For example, around the world, women do a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work. With children home from school, the increased levels of care work may mean that the crisis impacts women more than men along some domains. Surveys can measure these and help inform policy efforts to alleviate these impacts.

Disinformation or propaganda is another key issue with important implications during the crisis. To take an example from Georgia, Russia has long spread propaganda in the country about the Lugar Lab, suggesting that it is a biological weapon development centre. The Lab has played a critical role in Georgia’s response to the virus. Opinion polls can enable an immediate understanding of how propaganda is spreading and inform messaging efforts against Russian propaganda.

An example survey research data concept note
Clearly, surveys have the potential to inform a wide array of policies. Indeed, in places like the UK, the Government has already commissioned them to inform response efforts. However, developing countries are less likely to be able to afford or have experience in polling in response measures. Given this, donors need to step up now more than ever to enable a strong response.

In support of helping think tanks do just this, here is CRRC-Georgia’s concept note for survey data collection to inform the COVID-19 response in Georgia. Although, at the time of writing, we have not received funding (if you want to fund something like this, do get in touch), we felt that this proposal might help other organisations to rapidly create their own proposals, in turn cutting down the time between proposals and funding being delivered to enable effective response. Response time aside, we hope sharing the proposal will encourage potential collaboration and learning from each other (we’d be happy to hear others thoughts on this).

Monday, March 30, 2020

Air pollution in Tbilisi nearly halved by Covid-19 measures

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

Particulate matter in Tbilisi’s air has fallen by as much as 45% following the introduction of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, according to analysis of air quality data by CRRC Georgia.

The findings reflect broader global trends which have seen dramatic decreases in air pollution levels in China, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture show a clear fall in air pollution in the Georgian capital.

The plot below examines overall pollution levels in Tbilisi over the last month, overlaid on the same period for the last three years.

It highlights key dates in the COVID-19 crisis, specifically the first registered case, on 26 February, the closure of bars and restaurants and restrictions on entry into the country on 16 March, and the declaration of a state of emergency on 21 March.

Note: Two-day rolling average of the mean of normalized values for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10).

Total pollution appears to be lower following the closure of bars, restaurants, and borders. The data also suggest that in the case of these closures, falls in pollution appear to have preempted policy decisions. The pattern that emerges should be intuitive for anyone who has looked outside in Tbilisi over the last few weeks.

Air pollution is however strongly seasonal, peaking and falling throughout the day, week, and year. It is also closely tied to weather patterns: strong wind, for example, will disperse pollutants. Modelling allows these factors to be taken into account when determining the overall impact of Covid-19 measures.

Models have been created for levels of five key pollutants in Tbilisi, examining particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10), carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. The models adjust for seasonal factors using Facebook’s Prophet tool, and weather using daily data from NASA.

The models show that following the declaration of emergency, almost all categories of air pollution fell. The only exception to this pattern is sulphur dioxide which has remained relatively constant throughout.

The most dramatic impacts from COVID-19 related measures are seen for particulate matter pollutants (PM2.5 and PM10) with each falling by 40%–45% after the emergency declaration, approaching half their pre-crisis rate.

Interestingly, for these substances, a sharp fall was present prior to the introduction of emergency measures. It is possible that this drop may be a consequence of the decline in vehicle traffic as workplaces and recreational venues began to close.

In contrast, other substances only declined following the introduction of emergency measures. Differences in change patterns are likely attributable to the different sources of pollutants.

Notably, changes are most pronounced for particulate matter, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, substances related to transportation.

No significant change was observed for sulfur dioxide, which is more closely associated with coal and oil burning for power generation.

These pronounced changes show the profound impact of human activity on the capital’s air. The restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 are by necessity severe, but also temporary. As life returns to normal and the crisis abates, policymakers may reflect on these changes when considering how to tackle air pollution.

Note: The data and replication code for the analysis presented above is available here. The data analysis used an interrupted time series design, a quasi-experimental method which tests for significance in difference between points in a time series before and after a cut-off.