Wednesday, September 30, 2020

How high? Georgia spends millions online on illegal drugs each year

[Note: This article was co-published with OC-Media on the Caucasus Data Blog. The article was written by Ian Goodrich, a policy analyst at CRRC Georgia.]

Drug users in Georgia spent over $1.5 million dollars online between February and August 2020, according to a new study into the darknet market, Matanga, conducted by CRRC Georgia. 

When compared to similar online markets in Europe, this figure is substantial, exceeding monthly dark web drug revenue for Spain and Belgium combined.

How does it work?

Transactions take place through an elaborate process, beginning with a user interface familiar to any online shopper. 

Users of Matanga can browse listings from their computer or mobile device, and make payments via the site, typically in bitcoin to maintain the anonymity of buyer and seller. 

Drugs bought online are not delivered, but hidden for collection throughout major cities of Georgia. Once payment is complete, buyers are given GPS coordinates and must find their purchases concealed in public locations. 

The study found that on an average day, substances worth approximately $35,000 are concealed throughout Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi, with around 90% of trade in the capital.

Why so much money?

The study estimates that around $250,000 is spent on drugs in Georgia via a single platform each month. 

This figure substantially exceeds estimates for most European countries and would make Georgia one of the largest dark web drug markets in Europe. 

Source: Christin and Thomas (2019). Prices are converted to USD at 1.19 USD/EUR. Excl. (†) CRRC Georgia (2020)

So why is the online market so big? The answer, in part, comes down to prices and measurement. Drugs appear to cost much more online in Georgia than in Europe. 

For example, a median gram of cocaine bought online in Georgia was sold at $200, compared to around $75 in Europe – over two and a half times the price. 

Approaches to sampling and measurement also differ between the two studies, complicating direct comparison.

Nonetheless, the size of the online drug market in Georgia is substantial by any measure and cannot be fully explained by the cost of drugs and methodological differences between studies. 

Whilst the online trade in drugs in Georgia appears to be large, the country’s drug-taking population is small by European standards. This means sites such as Matanga may be much more important in Georgia than they are in Europe, where online markets are understood to represent a small fraction of overall trade. 

This would be consistent with activity seen in Russia, where the darknet drug trade is also believed to exceed that of Europe by a large margin.

Drug policy in Georgia

Why then do so many drug users in Georgia prefer to shop online? The answer may lie in Georgia’s approach to drug policy. 

Despite recent cannabis liberalisation, Georgian law still mandates severe, long-term prison sentences for possession of small quantities of drugs. In this context, platforms which protect participants’ identities will be attractive. 

Matanga allows buyers and sellers to trade anonymously, without ever needing to meet. Sellers do not even need to hide the drugs themselves and recruit couriers to further distance themselves from transactions. 

In Europe, where markets are larger and penalties lower, online trade may be considered unnecessarily cumbersome by buyers and sellers. In Georgia, however, where both buyer and seller may face lengthy prison time for the smallest exchange, online markets may be becoming a normal part of doing business.

The views presented in this article represent the author’s alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity. 

The full report can be found on the CRRC Georgia website with source code and data available on Github.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Georgian parents are concerned about online learning

[Note: This article was co-published with OC Media on the Caucasus Data Blog. This article was written by Elene Ergeshidze. Elene is a Junior Researcher at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]

Georgia has postponed the reopening of schools in major cities due to a new surge in the pandemic, but what are the biggest concerns Georgians have with the education system?

Georgia’s new academic year started on 15 September, but physical attendance at schools and universities in major cities has been postponed until 1 October. 

Earlier this month government officials, including the Head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health Amiran Gamkrelidze, said schools were ready to reopen. But on 11 September the prime minister announced this would not be possible in large cities because of a record-breaking number of new coronavirus cases in the country. 

In response, parents recently started a petition saying ‘no to online schooling’, to try and push forward the shift back to face-to-face schooling.

Students in public schools in large cities have not attended education institutions physically since March, when the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Georgia. 

Through broadcasting live lessons for school children on the public broadcaster, distance learning became available for everyone who had access to a TV. 

Data from the period indicated that most in Georgia could access either TV or other online learning options. But, UNICEF Georgia recommended prioritising school reopening because of the negative effects of school absence on children’s health. 

In this context, what do people think are the main problems for the Georgian education system today?

The August 2020 CRRC/NDI survey asked respondents about issues that the education system is facing in Georgia. Respondents were able to name up to three answers and the most frequently mentioned issue was difficulties associated with online classes, which a quarter (27%) of respondents named. 

The next most common issues were low qualifications of teachers/lecturers (22%) and the high cost of university education (20%). 

One in ten (10%) of the population reported that there were no problems facing the education system and 19% answered ‘don’t know’.

Women were more likely to name a problem than men. A quarter of men (24%) did not know how to answer this question compared to 16% of women. Similarly, 12% of men report that there were no problems facing the education system in Georgia whereas only 8% of women reported the same. 

Who is more concerned about online education? 

A logistic regression suggests women were 15 percentage points more likely to report distance learning as an issue than men. Those living outside Tbilisi were eight percentage points more likely to report distance learning was an issue. 

Other characteristics such as age, level of education, employment status, internet usage, and wealth do not predict whether people named difficulties with online classes as a problem or not. 

These differences are perhaps unsurprising. Women are more involved in children’s upbringing and education in Georgia. Therefore, they probably have more information about issues surrounding the education system than men. 

People living in other urban or rural settlements compared to residents of Tbilisi are less likely to be able to access the internet, which is necessary for online learning.

At present, it is still an open question whether schools and universities will reopen on 1 October. Another question is how the quality of education will be affected as a result of the lack of face to face interaction, and who this will affect the most. 

What is clear is that a substantial share of the public is concerned about online education, even if they do have access to it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Do Georgians think the Prosecutor’s Office is biased?

[This article was published on the Caucasus Data Blog in partnership with OC Media. It was written by Eto Gagunahvili, a Junior Researcher at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]

The impartiality and effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office has come into question in recent years.

The Georgian public has been in a near-perpetual state of shock in recent years over a stream of high-profile criminal cases. In many of these, the impartiality and effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office has come into question, but what do people really think about this vital institution?

Cases like the Khorava Street Murders, the killing by the Security Services of Temirlan Machalikashvili, and most recently, the murder of 19-year-old Giorgi Shakarashvili have captured the public attention. 

More recently, there has been widespread discussion over the death of Tamar Bachaleishvili. The authorities suggest she took her own life while the opposition and some in the media have argued that foul play was involved. 

The media has widely covered these cases, often questioning the effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office. 

Between 30 March and 12 April, CRRC Georgia conducted a study on people’s knowledge of and attitudes towards the Prosecutor’s Office within the PRIME project.

Data from the study suggests that people tend towards thinking there is political interference in the Prosecutors Office. Yet, they are often unaware of some basic facts about the institution.

The survey data indicates that while few think the Prosecutor’s Office is fully under the thumb of political forces, few think it is entirely free either. 

Only 6% of the public said they thought the Prosecutor’s Office was completely free of political influence. By comparison, 11% thought it was not free at all. The remainder of the public said it was mainly free (39%), mainly unfree (21%) or that they were uncertain if it was under political influence (22%). 

Analyses of the above question suggest that age, level of education, and settlement type are related to people’s opinions of how free on unfree the Prosecutor’s Office is from political influence. 

People between the ages of 35–54 were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was free from political influences compared to younger people. Those with secondary or lower education were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was not free from political influence compared to people with higher education.

When it comes to settlement type, people living in rural areas were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was free from political influences than people in Tbilisi.

In December 2018, the Prosecutor’s Office was separated from the Ministry of Justice and became a fully independent agency. The study checked whether people knew where the Prosecutor’s Office was institutionally located and asked respondents which of the following statements was true: 

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Justice; 

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs; 

The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia is currently an independent structure.

The data shows that approximately a third of people (34%) did not know, and a third of people believe that the Prosecutor’s office was subordinated to the Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Internal Affairs.  People were also largely unaware of who the Prosecutor General is. 

The majority (64%) in Georgia did not know who the Prosecutor General is, and 2% reported someone aside from who the actual Prosecutor General is. 

A regression shows that people who do not know which of the above statements about the Prosecutor's Office was true were more likely to report that it was free from political influences. They were also more likely to report that they didn’t know the answer to the question. 

The public’s opinion is a mixed bag about the Prosecutor’s Office. The majority have no idea who the Prosecutor General is or whether the Prosecutor's Office is independent or a subordinated structure. 

Most people believe that the Prosecutor's Office is subject to political influence, though there is some variation between social and demographic groups.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Lockdown vs re-opening the economy in Georgia

[Note: This blog was originally published in partnership with OC Media on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint effort of CRRC Georgia and OC Media.]

As the number of new daily confirmed cases is again on the rise, we look at how people felt about the anti-coronavirus restrictions in May.

Aside from the public health situation, COVID-19 has led to rising unemployment, reduced incomes, and food insecurity in Georgia. As the number of new daily confirmed cases is again on the rise, the Caucasus Datablog takes a look at how people felt about the anti-coronavirus restrictions when they were at their height.

Despite polling from CRRC Georgia’s COVID-19 Monitor surveys showing that the public supported the vast majority of the government’s anti-coronavirus policies, the data also suggests people were eager for the economy to reopen. In fact, a majority said they favoured opening up over a more cautious approach.

CRRC asked the public about the relative importance of caution versus opening up the economy on two surveys conducted between 7–10 May and 14–17 May. Most people agreed with the idea that the economic impacts of COVID-19 were worse than the virus itself and disagreed that it was more important to wait for the virus to be under control than to open the economy.  

In addition, the share of Georgians thinking that economic consequences of the virus could be as severe as virus itself also rose from 51% during the 7–10 May period to 64% during the 14–17 May.

The data from the 14–17 May survey was further analysed to explore differences between socio-demographic groups like age, gender, settlement type, education, employment, ethnicity, and household wealth.

This logistic regression showed that people in Tbilisi were less likely to think it was important to wait for COVID-19 to subside before opening up the economy. Older people were also less likely to support waiting for the epidemiological situation to get under control. 

When it comes to the economic costs of COVID-19, there were no statistical differences between key socio-demographic variables. During the crisis, large shares were uncertain how long the COVID-19 crisis would last (35% in the 7–10 May period and 42% during the 14–17 May period). 

Uncertainty on this question was associated with the idea that the economic costs of the virus could be worse than the virus itself. Controlling for demographic variables from the previous model, those uncertain about the possible period of the crisis were less supportive of the idea that the economic costs of the virus were worse than the virus itself.  

Still, a majority of those who were certain or uncertain about the length of the crisis thought that the economic consequences were worse than COVID-19’s health implications.

Overall, the majority of Georgians were supportive of opening up the economy during the COVID-19 crisis, and this support was increasing during the period when the economy was effectively closed. 

The negative economic impacts of COVID-19 also gained more public attention during this time. 

In general, urban settlements were more supportive of re-starting normal economic activities. Older people were also more prone to agree with opening up. 

Besides socio-demographic variables, uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 timeline also shaped public opinions. Uncertain people generally tended to disagree with the idea that the economic costs were harsher than the virus itself. 

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

This article was written by Rati Shubladze. Rati is a policy analyst at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article represent the author’s alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia, or any related entity.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

The rallying around the flag effect in Georgia

Note: This article was co-published with OC-Media. It was written by Dustin Gilbreath, Deputy Research Director at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.

In times of crisis, support for governments often rises in what is known as a rallying around the flag effect. The COVID-19 crisis in Georgia has been no exception.

Data from around the world has shown rallying around the flag effects in many countries during the pandemic, with a few exceptions. Georgia has followed this broader pattern, with performance ratings tripling for many actors and institutions between November/December 2019 and May 2020. 

Yet, with parliamentary elections set for 31 October, whether this has translated into changes in party preferences is unclear.

A survey CRRC Georgia fielded between 21–23 May, which the Embassy of the Netherlands in Tbilisi financially supported, asked people to assess the institutional performance of the prime minister, parliament, police, president, and the Georgian Orthodox Church. The question was worded in the same way as the NDI and CRRC 2019 November/December survey. 

When comparing the results, approval ratings roughly tripled for parliament from 9% positive to 30%, for the president from 9% positive to 25%, and for the prime minister from 21% positive to 66%. 

Institutional performance assessments of the Church improved from 50% positive to 66%, despite the significant controversy around their policies during the crisis. The across the board increases in approval ratings suggest a clear rallying around the flag effect. 

While there has been a large rally around Georgia’s government, the data is ambivalent when it comes to whether this has resulted in increased party support for the ruling Georgian Dream Party. 

In May, 25% of the public reported that Georgian Dream was the party closest to them, roughly comparable to the 21% that reported the same in November/December 2019. The share reporting that the UNM was closest to them also declined from 14% to 4%. 

This appears to be a large shift. Yet, the share of people refusing to answer what party they supported increased from 3% to 12%. Further, the share reporting they don’t know which party is closest to them rose from 5% to 12%. The share reporting that there is no party closest to them did not shift significantly with 37% in November/December and 38% of the public reporting the same in May.

Given this data, at least two explanations are plausible. While the NDI survey was done face to face, the COVID-19 Monitor survey was done over the phone. It is possible that UNM supporters were over-represented in the ‘don’t know’ and ‘refuse to answer’ categories in May, because of discomfort in sharing political views over the phone. Alternatively, the increase in ‘don’t know’ responses could stem from genuine increases in uncertainty. Reasonably a bit of both as well as other factors may be at play.

Despite this increased level of uncertainty, Georgian Dream appears to have gained ground, at least in terms of the share of the public willing to say they support them. How this translates into electoral success remains to be seen. But, what is clear is that Georgians have rallied around their institutions during the COVID-19 crisis.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Georgians increasingly open to compromise with Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Note: This article was written by David Sichinava, CRRC Georgia's Research Director, and co-published with OC Media. It is based on an article published in the Caucasus Analytical Digest. The views presented in the article represent the views of the authors’ alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity. 

Territorial integrity has been consistently ranked among the top issues in Georgian public opinion polls. But data from the 2019 Caucasus Barometer survey shows that many in Georgia are open to compromise.

The issue of territorial integrity remains a top concern for many Georgians, albeit with declining salience. In 2009, a CRRC/NDI public opinion poll showed that 49% perceived territorial integrity as the top national issue. Only 29% named it in a similar survey conducted in 2019.

Despite its salience, relatively little is known about what the Georgian public think about conflict resolution or the country’s relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or what type of relations Georgia should have with them.

The 2013 and 2019 CRRC Caucasus Barometer surveys show that Georgians strongly prefer models that maintain the country’s territorial integrity. In 2019, about 87% of the populace preferred Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be directly incorporated into Georgia, a proportion that was fairly close to the 2013 number (82%).

Yet, the public also became more open to other potential solutions. In 2013, a quarter of the public supported Georgia and Abkhazia forming a confederation, while in 2019, almost half of Georgians reported the same.

In 2019, 43% of Georgians supported having a confederation that would include South Ossetia as an equal entity to Georgia. 

Poll results from 2013 show that 57% of Georgians would accept Abkhazia enjoying a high degree of autonomy within Georgia, while the proportion increased to 67% in 2019.

Who is more open to compromise?

But which groups are most open to making concessions? To investigate this, a regression model predicting the degree of openness was constructed. 

Openness was measured on a four-point index. The highest value of the index was assigned to respondents who said they would accept the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those who would be willing to accept confederacy were assigned three, respondents accepting only regional autonomy a two, and those supporting their incorporation directly into Georgia were scored as one.

Analysis showed that residents of Tbilisi were more open to compromise. The probability of a Tbilisian to score four on the index was twice as high (14%) as for a rural resident (7%). They were also more likely to score three on the index than others. 

While the Caucasus Barometer did not ask respondents whether they were displaced by the conflict, distance from the areas of conflict can be used as a proxy. 

Respondents who lived in the immediate vicinity of Abkhazia were relatively more likely to have the highest score (18%) than those who lived 40 kilometres or more from Abkhazia (13%). 

Similarly, they were more likely to score three in the scale than those residing farther away.

The pattern was the opposite in the case of South Ossetia. Those residing in proximity to the region were more likely to oppose concessions to South Ossetia, with a mere 8% chance of scoring four on the compromise scale.

It would appear that Georgians are increasingly willing to consider alternative resolutions to these territorial disputes. 

The Caucasus Barometer survey shows that Tbilisi residents are more open for a potential compromise. Those who were most likely to experience the conflicts directly have diverging opinions. 

While the Georgian public seems to be more open to change than in the past, this does not guarantee that the peace process will find a way forward in the immediate future. Indeed, considering the opinions of national elites and those across the boundary lines, the chances of a breakthrough are rather bleak.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Support for democracy increased in Georgia during COVID-19, but what does that mean?

[Note: This article was co-published with OC Media, here. It was written by Rati Shubladze, a Policy Analyst at CRRC Georgia. The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and do not represent the views of the Embassy of the Netherlands, CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.]

The COVID-19 outbreak generated discussion about whether support for democracy would decline during and after the crisis. While reported support increased, this did not necessarily match support for democratic means of governance.

Data from the CRRC’s COVID-19 monitor shows that more people in Georgia reported support for democracy compared to the pre-crisis period. However, as before the crisis, support for democracy does not seem to be grounded in the values commonly associated with democratic governance.

Compared to a study with the same question conducted before the virus outbreak, support for democracy increased.  

The Caucasus Barometer 2019, conducted before the pandemic, shows that nearly half of Georgians (49%) thought that democracy was preferable to any other kind of government. The rest did not report explicit support for democracy. The share of people explicitly supporting democracy rose to 60% during the COVID-19 outbreak.  

A previous article looked at how support for democracy was not associated with liberal values, such as support for gender equality and acceptance of different ethnic or religious groups. 

Data collected during the COVID-19 Monitor suggests that support for democracy is also not associated with preferences for democratic rules of governance. 

The COVID-19 survey asked Georgians for their opinions regarding different approaches to governance, citizen’s attitudes toward the government, and restrictions to overcome the crisis. The data shows ambiguous results. 

The majority (59%) said it was acceptable for the public to critique the government, and nearly two-thirds said it was unacceptable to restrict citizens’ rights without going through institutional checks and balances.  

At the same time, for most Georgians (53%), said efficiency, not institutional accountability, is what matters. Moreover, most said they supported strong, unaccountable leaders (68%) to get the country out of crisis. 

Regressions testing whether the above data are correlated with support for democracy, controlling for socio-demographic variables like gender, age, education, settlement type, employment, household wealth and ethnicity, were run. They suggest that there are no statistically significant associations between attitudes towards the above forms of governance and support for democracy. 

Contrary to many commentators’ expectations, support for democracy increased during the COVID-19 crisis. However, as previous studies have indicated, support is not associated with democratic values and considerations. 

This analysis shows that explicit supporters of democracy on many levels do not hold different views from non-supporters regarding the means of governance, decision making, and institutional accountability.  

This again leads to the question, why do so many in Georgia report support for democracy if not for the content of that idea?

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

There is a gap between support for democracy and liberal values in Georgia

Note: This article was published in partnership with OC-Media. It is based on an article published in Caucasus Analytical Digest. The views presented in the article represent the views of the authors’ alone, and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity. The article was written by Tamuna Khostaria, a Senior Researcher at CRRC Georgia, and Rati Shubladze, a Policy Analyst at CRRC Georgia.

Public opinion polls suggest support for democracy is on the decline in Georgia, but does support for democracy correlate to support for liberal values? 

An increasing number of Georgians view their country as ‘a democracy with major problems’, with CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer survey showing the share of people reporting this belief to have increased from 27% in 2011 to 48% in 2019

In parallel to this growing scepticism towards the country’s democratic situation, surveys show a decline in the proportion of the population believing that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government, falling from 65% in 2011 to 49% in 2019

Using data from CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer 2019, it’s possible to look at who is more or less likely to prefer democracy and whether support for democracy is linked with support for gender equality and tolerance towards minorities, factors many regard as core values of a liberal democracy

A regression model comparing respondents who think democracy is preferable to any other kind of government (49%) to those that think either that a non-democratic government can be preferable (20%) or that it does not matter to them (14%) suggests that people living in the capital, ethnic Georgians, and those who spent more years in education are more likely to report support for democracy. 

No other demographic factors were found to be associated with support for democracy. Aside from demographics, the study tested whether a number of proxies of liberal values were associated with democratic attitudes. These included:

  • An index of tolerance towards ethnic minorities, constructed from questions about whether or not a respondent would approve of someone of their ethnicity marrying a person of another ethnic or religious group.
  • An index of attitudes towards women’s freedom of action, including whether or not people thought it was acceptable at any age for women to drink strong alcohol, smoke tobacco, live separately from their parents before marriage, have sexual relations before marriage, or cohabit with a man without marriage.
  • Attitudes towards gender equality in terms of breadwinning and whether men and women should get the inheritance.
  • A variable proxying homophobia, based on whether or not the respondent would least like to have a homosexual as a neighbour.

Regression analysis demonstrates that none of these proxies for liberal values within the models have a significant association with support for democracy. 

Support for democracy in Georgia does not appear to be related to tolerance towards ethnic or sexual minorities. Nor is it associated with supporting women’s rights or gender equality. The only significant predictors of support for democracy as the ideal form of government tested were years of education and ethnic minority status.  

This could suggest that people simply claim to be supporters of democracy without really knowing or being ready to accept the values that it has to offer. In turn, this would suggest that people are just going along with the idea of democracy without agreeing to its moral standards. However, these ideas remain unconfirmed to a certain extent. 

Given the patterns described above, there is a clear need for further in-depth investigation into the determinants of support for democracy.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Church scandals have hurt trust in the Georgian Orthodox Church

[Note: This article was co-published with OC Media. It was written by Dustin Gilbreath, Deputy Research Director at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity. The data used in the above analysis is available here.] 

The Georgian Orthodox Church has been hit by numerous scandals in recent years, but have those scandals affected public trust?

In 2017, a priest was charged and convicted of attempting to murder Patriarch Ilia II’s secretary. On numerous occasions, scandal has emerged as a result of the government handing over land to the Church for a symbolic price. The homophobic riots in 2013 on International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, which included Orthodox priests, were another salient event which likely hurt the Church’s credibility in the eyes of many in the public

More recently, sexual abuse scandals have emerged, and even more recently the Church’s actions around the COVID-19 crisis were controversial. A new study suggests that these scandals are taking a toll on trust in the Church in Georgia, at least in the short term.

Given the above, it is likely unsurprising that trust in the Church has been on the decline in recent years. While 75% of Orthodox Christians fully trusted the Church in 2008, only 38% did in 2017. In 2019, the data suggest a similar picture.

Although this apparent decline is likely linked to the scandals, making a causal connection is difficult. Numerous factors could lead to declines in trust in the Church from changing values to less interest in religion. 

However, a natural experiment which occurred during the fieldwork for CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer survey in 2019 enables a better understanding of the impact of Church scandals on people’s trust in the Church.

On 26 October, Iakob Iakobishvili, at the time an Archbishop in the Georgian Orthodox Church, suggested that the government had approached him with an offer to attempt to remove Ilia II.  

On 31 October, the Church expelled Archbishop Petre Tsaava. Following the meeting, the archbishop accused Ilia II of being a paedophile. The allegations were shocking for Georgian society — Ilia II is generally accepted to be the most trusted figure in Georgian society. 

At the same time as the above scandal was taking place, the Caucasus Barometer survey was ongoing and asked respondents about trust in the religious institution which they belong to. Through comparing randomly selected respondents who participated in the survey before and after the scandal, the natural experiment enables an understanding of whether there was a causal impact of the scandal on attitudes. 
The results suggest that the scandal led to a significant decline in Georgians’ trust in the Church, with a 15 percentage point decline in those reporting they either fully or partially trust the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Further analysis was conducted to look at who the scandal affected most. The results suggest that there was a larger decline in trust among people in urban areas outside Tbilisi and those with higher levels of education. 

In contrast, men and women, those who are working and not, and older and younger people were no more or less affected by the scandal, controlling for other factors.

The data also appears to suggest that the scandal had a larger effect on the religiously observant. The survey asked respondents about religious attendance and fasting. 

Taking into account other factors, regular churchgoers appear to be more affected by the scandal. Similarly, those who reported that they fast often when religion dictates appear to have been more affected, in one of the two analyses conducted in the study. 

While the above data analysis strongly suggests that the events of late October shook the public’s trust in the Church, this could be a short term effect. The data used for this analysis were collected in the weeks before and days after the scandal. Whether the decline in trust associated with the Church scandals is lasting is an open question as far as the data is concerned. More recent data that was released on 23 July suggested the public’s trust had further declined as a result of the scandals surrounding COVID-19.

However, the long-term decline in trust in the Church that has taken place concomitantly with numerous scandals suggest that the Church’s woes are having a lasting impact on Georgians’ trust in the Orthodox Church. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Georgia has a vaccine misinformation problem

[Note: This article was co-published with OC Media. The article was written by Dustin Gilbreath, Deputy Research Director at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of the Embassy of the Netherlands, CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.]

While the majority of Georgians believe that vaccines are a net positive for society, a majority also express skepticism about their safety and effectiveness with only 42% interested in receiving an COVID-19 vaccine if it became available. 

Many experts believe that to fully remove the restrictions which have emerged because of the COVID-19 crisis, a vaccine is needed. While vaccines are only expected in the medium term, if and when they are available, Georgia may face large challenges with implementing a large scale vaccination program. 

Rather than money or logistics being the primary barriers to vaccination, misinformation might be. In other contexts, anti-vaccine sentiment has led to the re-emergence of diseases that had long been under control. The newly released COVID-19 Monitor data, which CRRC Georgia collected with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Tbilisi, suggests that large shares of the public are misinformed about vaccines. Furthermore, the more negative or uncertain people’s attitudes are towards vaccines, the lower is their chances of wanting to be vaccinated if a COVID-19 vaccine was available.

The survey asked respondents a set of 11 questions about vaccines ranging from whether vaccines cause autism to if vaccines are effective at preventing the diseases they are supposed to. The results suggest there are high levels of uncertainty and misinformation about vaccines in Georgia. 

One in five people (19%) agree with the statement that vaccines cause autism.  A further 52% are uncertain.

One in five people (21%) believe that infant immune systems cannot handle as many vaccines as doctors give them. Another third (35%) are uncertain.

One in five (21%) also believe that if they vaccinate their child, it may create serious problems and a quarter (24%) are uncertain.

Although less than half the public believe these factually inaccurate statements, the shares are relatively high. For example, in the United States, anti-vaccination sentiment is considered both a public health and security risk. Yet, in the US, half as many people (10%) believe that vaccines cause autism and a slightly lower share (46%) were uncertain, according to a January 2020 Gallup survey.

Public sentiment is not entirely negative. Most people (74%) think that vaccines are necessary to protect the health of young people and that they do a good job at preventing the diseases they are intended to prevent (72%). 

However, most people express at least some scepticism or uncertainty towards vaccines. The chart below presents an index of attitudes towards vaccines. Respondents were given 1 point if they reported a pro-vaccine attitude and 0 points if they expressed either uncertainty or a negative attitude towards vaccines. Roughly equal shares of the public have attitudes that tend to be more positive than negative/uncertain and more negative/uncertain than positive. 

Attitudes towards vaccines are reflected in people’s interest in getting a vaccine. If a vaccine was available six months from now 42% would be interested in getting it, 43% would not want the vaccine, and the remainder were either uncertain or refused to answer the question. 

Those that did not want to get the vaccine reported they would not want the vaccine most frequently, because it would not be tested thoroughly enough (40%). 

However, data collected a week later suggest that similar shares would want (38%) and not want (43%) the vaccine if it was available two years from now rather than six months, when presumably the vaccine would be better tested. 

Aside from the lack of testing, scepticism towards vaccines in a variety of forms was also frequently mentioned among those that did not want to get a vaccine. One in seven (14%) reported vaccines cause larger health problems for those who take them, and one in nine (11%) reported that vaccines are not effective at treating disease.

Note: The data on the above chart do not sum to 100 as respondents were allowed to name more than one response.

There is a strong correlation between people’s attitudes towards vaccines and whether or not they would want to get a vaccine if one was available six months from now. The chart below shows the adjusted probability of wanting a vaccine if one were available by the attitude index shown above. Controlling for age, educational attainment, settlement type, and whether or not there were children in the respondent’s household, the results suggest that people who have entirely uncertain or negative attitudes have a 10% chance of wanting a vaccine. By comparison, a person with fully positive attitudes has an 87% chance of wanting a vaccine.

Controlling for attitudes towards vaccines, a number of other factors are associated with whether or not someone would want a vaccine if one were available. Women are 25 percentage points less likely than men to want a vaccine, all else equal. People in Tbilisi are 11 percentage points less likely to want a vaccine than people in other urban areas and 13 percentage points less likely than people in rural areas.

The above data clearly shows that Georgia has a vaccine misinformation problem. This matters for both public health in general as well as for the eventual defeat of COVID-19.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Covid 19 and the Georgian Orthodox Church

[Note: This article was written by Dustin Gilbreath, Deputy Research Director at CRRC Georgia and published originally on The views presented in the article are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of the Embassy of the Netherlands, CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.]

One of the most controversial points in the Covid 19 crisis to date has been the Georgian Orthodox Church’s response. Of particular contention were the Church’s refusal to sanitize the communion spoon or to use a replacement and the decision to leave churches open for the Easter liturgy. In an apparent attempt to discourage church attendance, the government banned car use unexpectedly on April 17th in the days before Easter, with the ban continuing until April 27th. 

While there was much controversy over the Church during the crisis, how many people actually attended church during Easter and what did the public think of the Church’s response?

The results of the newly released Covid 19 Monitor survey, which CRRC Georgia carried out with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Tbilisi, suggest that church attendance was less than a tenth of its past. Further, the public tended toward disapproving the communal spoon policy. At the same time, data on people’s views of how the church handled the crisis are ambiguous.

The study asked respondents whether they attended Easter Liturgy this year as well as last. 
Only 4% of Orthodox Christians reported attending church on Easter this year. This compares to 44% who reported that they went to church on Easter last year. Comparing the two (4% this year /44% last year) suggests attendance at Easter liturgy was 9% the year prior. This is likely a partial explanation for why Georgia did not experience a spike in Covid 19 cases following Easter.

Further analysis of the data suggests that younger people were a bit more likely to go to church (7% of 18-34 year olds and 5% of 35-54 year olds) than older people (1% people over 55).

When it comes to approval of the use of a communal spoon, 33% of Orthodox Christians approved of the communal spoon policy, 43% disapproved, and 21% were uncertain. Older people (55+) are more disapproving of the policy (55+: 51%) than younger people (18-34 and 35-54: 39%). 

While relatively few people attended church this year and the public tended toward disapproving of the communal spoon policy, has this impacted trust in the church or the public’s perceptions of how well the church is performing? On these points, the data does not provide a clear answer.

On the 2019 Caucasus Barometer survey, 71% of Georgian Orthodox Christians reported trusting the religious institution they belong to. Similarly, 69% of Georgia’s Orthodox population reported the same on the Covid 19 Monitor survey. However, only 28% reported fully trusting the church in the Covid 19 Monitor survey compared with 35% in the Caucasus Barometer survey. This suggests that the degree of trust in the church has declined. 

The Covid 19 Monitor Survey asked about the Church’s performance using the same question asked in the November/December 2019 NDI survey. The results suggest that since December, there has been an increase in positive assessments of the Church’s performance from 50% to 66%. However, this is in a context where performance assessments increased for all institutions that were asked about on both surveys.

The public tended towards not supporting the Church’s communal spoon policy, and most people who went to Church for Easter in the past did not this year. The Church’s approval ratings remain high, and have even increased since the start of the crisis. Yet, this follows a broader pattern of increased institutional performance assessments in the country more broadly, and the degree of trust that Orthodox Christians have in the church appears to have declined.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Covid-19 Monitor: New Report on Georgian Public Opinion on the Covid-19 Crisis

Today, CRRC Georgia released a report on public opinion in Georgia on the Covid-19 crisis. The report includes data collected between late April and early June, 2020. During this time, CRRC Georgia conducted weekly public opinion surveys and presented the results on a weekly basis to policy makers, local NGOs and the international community. 

The study covered a wide range of issues from disinformation to food insecurity and employment. Some of the key findings include:
  • The public’s assessments of the performance of a wide range of institutions became significantly more positive during this period;
  • The vast majority of the public approved of the nearly all of the policies that the government implemented during the crisis;
  • Between a third and a quarter of the population lost a job during the crisis;
  • The majority of households experienced at least some level of food insecurity during the crisis;
  • Median household incomes roughly halved during the crisis;
  • People tended towards favoring opening up the economy during the crisis to exercising caution;
  • There is widespread misinformation around vaccines in Georgia, and belief in misinformation is strongly correlated with whether or not someone would want a vaccine for Covid-19 if one were available six months from now;
  • Misinformation was present but not widespread during the crisis. For example, 9% of the public believe that 5G infrastructure spreads the virus;
  • Only 4% of Georgian Orthodox Christians attended Easter Liturgy, as opposed to 44% the year prior;
  • Few people believe that there will be a second wave of the virus, and there would be less support for implementing restrictions on different freedoms if a second wave took place.
The full report is available here. The six datasets are available from CRRC Georgia’s online data analysis tool.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Teachers can be encouraged to report domestic violence — but the authorities must respond

[Note: This article first appeared on OC Media, here. It was written by Dustin Gilbreath. Dustin is the Deputy Research Director at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article reflect the views of the authors alone and do not reflect the official positions of UN Women, the Danish Government, CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.]

Domestic violence was widely suspected to have increased during the COVID-19 crisis. 

A study CRRC Georgia conducted for UN Women prior to the crisis found a behavioural lever that could encourage teachers to report domestic violence they suspect among their students. Yet, the report suggests that until the government reforms the currently dysfunctional reporting infrastructure, encouraging teachers to report could do more harm than good. 

This suggests that efforts should focus on using behaviourally informed interventions that nudge the authorities to respond to the reports they receive before rolling out large-scale efforts aimed at bystanders. 

The Teacher Reporting of Violence against Children and Women study aimed to understand whether there were behavioural levers that could encourage teachers to report domestic violence. 

Teachers were the target group of interest as they work closely with children. In this regard, it is generally accepted that the signs of domestic violence against both children and their mothers show up in children’s behaviour. 

Moreover, legislation passed in 2016 requires teachers to report suspected domestic violence in Georgia. According to the legislation, there is also a school reporting officer, who is often either a school resource officer (known as a mandaturi — school security guards) or the principal if the school does not have a resource officer.

The problems the authorities need to fix

The study suggests teachers are generally aware of their responsibility to report. Yet, they were hesitant to do so, because they think that the authorities’ and particularly the police’s response will lead to more harm than good.  As one teacher stated: 

‘I think about this frequently — which one is better, to report or not to report. Considering the last case in Kachreti, reporting sometimes results in such a catastrophic consequence… Those who should solve a problem, on the contrary, make it worse… And I was thinking what is better, to speed up such a catastrophe or stay indifferent?’

This fear was also reflected in the responses teachers gave on the study’s survey. When asked what might make their colleagues hesitant to report domestic violence, a fear that institutions would respond ineffectively was among the top three reasons given.

Aside from being afraid of the consequences of a report for the victim’s personal safety (or even the perpetrator’s, as the Kachreti case demonstrates), teachers were often also afraid for their and their family’s safety as the chart above shows. 

As one teacher stated: ‘[If you report] they call you a backstabber, because you collaborate with police […] I want to protect myself since all the violence will be redirected to me, and they will tell my children that your father called the police.’ 

The lack of confidentiality also feeds the fear that teachers will face physical reprisals as a result of making a report. As one teacher stated: ‘guaranteed confidentiality is not in place here.’ 

Even in the absence of such fears or where they are overcome, people who report domestic violence encounter difficulties in getting the police to respond adequately to the situation. As one school resource officer stated: ‘When we call the police, they say, “What happened? Who hasn’t fought?” We even sometimes have to beg them to come to our school.’

One of the sources of the problem is that some police officers do not take domestic violence seriously or even think it should be brushed under the rug. A school resource officer, when discussing an instance where they reported a case of domestic violence, stated, ‘They [the police] advised her [a child who was beaten by her father] not to make the complaint harsh and if she would change her complaint and write it in a “more beautiful” way, her daddy would go home in the evening.’ 

On top of the above, teachers realise that even if the police act effectively, most victims end up worse off as a result of reports. Families lose one or the only breadwinner, and teachers know the economic situation of the abused will deteriorate. 

Economic consequences aside, the abused also face social pressure, shame, and fear of the perpetrator’s return as a result of the report. 

The lack of socio-economic and psychological services, which are quite scattered and fragmented in Georgia, cause or exacerbate these issues. For teachers, the legal responsibility to report violence is outweighed by the moral responsibility to protect the safety of victims and not to add economic problems to the abuse and other issues they already face.

How teachers can be encouraged to report
The above shows that along the full chain of teacher domestic violence reporting, a circle of distrust stemming from ineffective institutional responses to domestic violence discourages domestic violence reporting among teachers. 

If teachers are encouraged to report domestic violence, it seems like they will be met with an ineffective response, discouraging them from reporting suspected domestic violence in the future. 

It is easy to imagine this devolving into a cycle wherein following failed responses, teachers discourage others from reporting through a demonstration effect.

In this context, there should be a reasonable degree of doubt about how much people should be encouraging teachers to report domestic violence. However, if the situation does improve, the study also provides some evidence about messages that could encourage teachers to report.

To test whether different messages might encourage teachers to take concrete steps towards reporting, the study randomly assigned three different messages to teachers and then measured their willingness to take a number of different actions surrounding domestic violence. The three messages included a social norming message, the provision of legal information, and both the previously mentioned messages combined. 

The social norming message highlighted to teachers that most people in Georgia find domestic violence unacceptable. While this may seem like a longshot at making change, previous research has shown the effectiveness of highlighting social norms that people are unaware of in changing behaviour. 

The second message informed teachers of their legal responsibilities to report. It was provided based on the assumption that many might not be aware of this duty. 

The third treatment combined both of these messages, with the goal of seeing whether the sum would be greater than the component parts.

The treatments were measured against attitudes towards reporting domestic violence, whether people were willing to provide their contact information to receive training about domestic violence, and whether they would be willing to sign a pledge against domestic violence. 

Although not direct measures of intention or actual reporting, the logic behind these measures is that a) attitudes relate to action, and b) in Georgia many are unwilling to provide their contact information (as this study re-affirmed). Hence, if the messages could encourage people to change their attitudes or take an action many would be hesitant to, then the message is likely on the right track.

The results of the experiment found few significant results, with one exception. The study asked teachers if they would be interested in participating in training on domestic-violence-related issues, and if they were, to provide contact information. 

Among those that were interested, teachers were 10 percentage points more likely to provide information so that they could be contacted for training if they received the social norming message. 

Aside from this one message having the potential to increase reporting, the study found that the different messages worked for different groups, enabling the targeting of different messages to people likely to be receptive to them. 

For instance, the study found that the legal information messages were effective with men but not women. 

While the study provides extensive detail on what messages are likely to work and for who, the main finding of the study is that before engaging in large-scale encouragement of teachers to report domestic violence, the government needs to adequately respond to the reports they already get. To do so, the study’s findings could be informative. 

Although the social norming message appears to have the most potential, the legal message appears to work with men in particular. Since the police force is largely male, using legally based messages with police officers may be particularly effective at encouraging adequate responses to domestic violence.  However, to confirm this suggestion, further research is needed.

The study has numerous findings and can potentially inform efforts at encouraging the authorities to respond appropriately to reports of domestic violence. It also provides a detailed set of recommendations on how to encourage teachers to report domestic violence. 

However, until the time the problems described in this article are fixed, it is questionable whether encouraging bystanders to report domestic violence will help or hurt.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Social capital in Georgia: how trust becomes solidified when words are backed up with deeds

Social capital is a set of networks between individuals and groups of individuals and the mutual trust related to these networks. It facilitates communication and cooperation between people and makes available resources that would be otherwise out of reach. Thus, social capital is crucial for social and economic development. Caucasus Barometer 2019 data shows that while the level of structural and cognitive social capital in Georgia is somewhat low, with the cognitive component lagging further behind, the bonds between the two are strong and stronger than each’s link to other factors.

While there are different definitions of social capital, most of them point to structural and cognitive elements of the phenomena. The former refers to networks and connections, and the latter to the feeling of trust and reliability among these connections. For example, networks refer to connections people have with people from similar as well as different groups, horizontal as well as vertical. It is relations and repetitive and reciprocal exchanges with others. The cognitive component of social capital points to the feeling of confidence in others and various institutions. Of course these two are interrelated, and they influence and cultivate each other

Structural social capital is measured using questions assessing people’s involvement in various activities and their ties with various groups of people. Caucasus Barometer survey asks a number of such questions, including whether someone:
When it comes to cognitive social capital, it is assessed based on how much people trust others and various institutions. CB contains a number of questions measuring cognitive social capital, including:
Variables measuring trust towards political institutions and specific actors are excluded when calculating cognitive social capital in this writing, as politically loaded attitudes are more likely to be driven by the attitudes towards specific political actors and shift based on ongoing events.

To describe Georgia’s population in terms of structural social capital, the answers to the above questions were recoded so that  respondents receive one point if their answers indicate the presence of structural social capital and 0 if not. Responses were then combined in an index of structural social capital that ranges from 0 to 11, with 0 indicating the lowest level of structural social capital and 11 the highest.

The mean score for structural social capital in Georgia is 4.54 and though it might seem that it is close to the theoretical average (5.5/11), ¾ of the population has structural social capital lower or equal to 6 and only 4% of the population scores higher than 8.

As for cognitive social capital, answers to the questions related to trust were transformed and combined in an index of cognitive social capital that ranges from 0 to 5, with 0 indicating the lowest level of cognitive social capital and 5 the highest.

The mean score for cognitive social capital in Georgia is 1.52 and ¾ of the population has cognitive social capital lower or equal to 2. Only 6% of the population scores higher than 3.

The above shows that more people have higher structural social capital, compared to cognitive social capital. This means that networks and links are more developed in Georgia than the trust component of social capital.

To understand how structural and cognitive social capital varies between different demographic groups, regression models were constructed. They included sex (male, female), age group (18-34, 35-54, 55+), settlement type (capital, urban, rural), education (secondary or lower, secondary technical, tertiary), employment status (employed, not employed), having debt (household has debt, household does not have debt), and an additive index of ownership of different items, a common proxy for wealth. The cognitive social capital index is also included in the model of structural social capital and vice versa. 

In theory all the variables included in the regression model are usually related to social capital. Specifically, people with more connections to various groups and opportunities for interaction have higher levels of both structural and cognitive social capital.

Regression analysis shows that structural social capital is higher in the capital than in other urban or rural areas. Younger people are also more likely to report higher structural social capital than people in their middle years or older people. People with tertiary education are also more likely to have higher levels of structural social capital. This is logical assuming that Tbilisi offers more opportunities to participate in diverse group activities and connect with others. Similarly, younger people might have more time and means of interacting and participating in various activities that form networks. Education may also open up even more opportunities to interact with different groups and participate in various activities. It is noteworthy that as theory would suggest, structural social capital is associated with cognitive social capital. People with higher levels of trust tend to have more connections with different people and groups.

Structural social capital is not associated with other factors. For example, people who are employed are expected to have just slightly higher structural social capital than people who are not employed. There is also no difference in terms of sex, a household having or not having debt, and wealth.

As for cognitive social capital, regression analysis suggest that there is no difference in cognitive social capital in terms of settlement type, sex, age, education, economic situation, employment status or households having or not having debt. The only variable that cognitive social capital is related to is structural social capital, as already shown above. This means that higher levels of trust are not really associated with being part of a certain demographic group or having a specific characteristic, but more closely tied to the amount of networks someone has. The more structural capital one has, the more likely one is to have higher cognitive social capital.

Regression analysis shows that structural social capital is related to various demographic characteristics though cognitive social capital is only predicted well by structural social capital. This relationship is logical and in line with previous research that indicates that these two are bound together. The fact that cognitive social capital is not really related to various demographic characteristics might suggest that structural social capital drives cognitive social capital.

Structural and cognitive social capital in Georgia is average or lower for the majority of the population. While various factors, such as age, education, settlement type, and cognitive social capital predict the level of structural social capital, cognitive social capital is mostly related to structural social capital. Nevertheless cognitive social capital is of great importance, as it simplifies communication and makes connections useful. Therefore, it might be useful to further study the ways in which structural social capital translates into cognitive social capital.

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.