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.