Public opinion polls are not a substitute for opinion

Published in Economics
Monday, 07 November 2022 15:18

Zaal Anjaparidze, political analyst (Tbilisi, Georgia)

Political actors are increasingly and proactively trying to manipulate public opinion polls. Georgia is not an exception in this respect.

In this regard, a truly unique situation has been created in our country. Public opinion surveys in Georgia have been practically monopolized for years by American organizations (NDI, IRI) and their local contractors, which are financed by international donors. Sociological surveys are practically not financed by the state from the local budget. Therefore, we should not be surprised that the existing polls, in addition to sociology, also serve the interests of their sponsors to create the appropriate political and social conjuncture in the country.

Today, the one of the central topics in the country is to obtain the status of a candidate for EU membership and to fulfill the 12 recommendations of the European Commission. Although, based on polls, the narrative that European integration is the solid choice of the majority of the Georgian population has been firmly established in Georgia. However, how true this is, especially in the light of recent events in the country?!.

In July-August 2022, NDI's public opinion poll shows that the support of the European Union by the population of Georgia is 75%. Although this is 5-7% less than the results of previous months (80-80%), it is still an impressive majority. However, let's not rush to final conclusions.

If you aspire to be a member of any union, you should have a very positive attitude towards it. At this time, in the sociological research conducted by the European Foundation in 2021, we read: "Overall, 46 percent of Georgians have either very positive (16%) or rather positive (30%) attitudes towards the European Union. About 43% have a neutral outlook, while a minority (7%) has either a rather negative or very negative attitude." It turns out that only 46% of our population, or less than half(!), consciously supports the European Union.

The point is that in the polls sponsored by Western donors, it is clear that the attempt is not to question the pro-European orientation of the population of Georgia, in which they have invested. That's why, even if they receive an unwanted image, they try to model this image so as not to violate professional standards too much. Political messages can also be read in the titles of individual blocks. For example, to reinforce a pro-European message, NDI says, "Most people are convinced that Georgia would benefit more from European and Euro-Atlantic integration than from close relations with Russia." How did NDI measure and determine the degree of "certainty" of respondents when its survey only has one question on European integration? posed and it does not attempt to determine what is really behind the respondent's “YES” or “NO”.

It is very interesting, in a survey by the European Foundation, how only 46% of those who love the European Union agree with 77% of those who are in favor of joining the European Union? One of the most realistic options for the answer is consumerism with the EU, not value unity. In the presence of this unity, there would be neither the problem of holding an LGBT-march in the center of Tbilisi, nor such intense unacceptability of same-sex marriage that a relevant entry in the constitution became necessary. Examples can be continued.

In addition, the survey data is seriously distorted by the so-called respondents themselves. A "self-selection" or "self-censoring" effect, where a certain percentage of respondents consistently refuse to participate in a survey or do not provide a response. It is even more problematic, the so-called "Falsification of preferences" - a situation where instead of giving an honest answer to a directly asked question, the respondent gives an answer that is expected from him by an imaginary majority. Therefore, we should not be surprised by the many "YES" answers to the direct question of support for European integration during the said surveys. In addition to the above-mentioned reasons, this can also be explained by the respondent's desire for psychological comfort, as well as conformist behavior and fear of social condemnation. If we take into account the information-psychological environment and pressure created with us, a different view from the mainstream opinion is considered a betrayal of the state and a crime. It turns out that the conducted surveys actually measure not the respondent's true attitude towards a specific issue, but only his socially and politically acceptable attitude.

Considering all the above-mentioned circumstances, it is not difficult to guess how the 81-83% rate of support for European integration, or the unusually high rating of some faceless but acceptable person for the client, is established. These are all tools of political and psychological manipulation, and it seems that our political class and society have come to terms with this modeled reality.

The situation will not change until the state changes its attitude towards this issue and creates national public opinion research institutions in the country. The situation will also not change if trust in the polls themselves, their commissions, operators and results is not measured. Episodic studies on this issue are not enough and cannot change the weather.

In general, the importance of polls was probably best summed up by Margaret Thatcher: "If you are guided by opinion polls, you are not practicing leadership -- you are practicing followership.”

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    The stakes are high and considering all circumstances the European Union (EU) faces a difficult but historical decision. While, it is premature to talk in which direction the scales will swing, it’s evident that either negative or some intermediary decision about on any of the applicant state, will significantly affect their geopolitical future in the short and mid-term perspective.  What about Georgia – the sole strategic ally of the West in the South Caucasus, the situation with regard to the status, still remains unclear. While we watch Ukraine as arena of a brutal geopolitical competition between the West and Russia on the European theater, Georgia remains another arena of geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the West. The absence of war nowadays, doesn’t mean it will not be unleashed tomorrow, if Russia finds Georgia alienated by the West. Thus, it's safe to say that EU candidate status for Georgia is highly likely to strengthen the EU foothold in the region and have a far-reaching influence on the other states of the region.   

    Before the pendant conclusion of the European Commission about candidate status for Georgia some opinions are present  both in Georgia and outside  calling the EU on either refraining from granting the status to Georgia, or suggesting something transitional. These suggestions are largely generated by ongoing domestic political infighting in the country. 

    The benefits from granting candidate status to Georgia, which considerably outstrips other members of the Association Trio by the pace of fulfillment of the components of the EU Association Agreement appeared to be far more tangible, than conditional gains in case of refusal.

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    What will the EU gain and what will it lose if decides to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, and say "NO" to Georgia, or give it something different? Hardly this “cold shower” from the EU would contribute to political stability in Georgia, which is apparently important for the EU in this turbulent geopolitical environment.  Georgia’s opposition groups and their supporters are highly likely to use this “NO” to embark on mass anti-governmental protests and Georgia is expected to plunge into another cycle of confrontation, turbulence, and uncertainty, with the ensuing consequences. It’s hard to imagine that the EU would be satisfied with such state of affairs in its key partner in the region.

    Refusal to grant Georgia candidate status under any plausible pretext, can significantly increase not only Euro-skepticism but outright anti-Western sentiments in a sizeable part of Georgian society, providing anti-Western forces with an excellent opportunity to increase their influence and strengthen their stance. Nowadays, they are quite industrious in creating an anti-European atmosphere in society. Will the EU be satisfied with this perspective?

    Pinning hope that the refusal to give a candidate’s status will force Georgia’s ruling party to become more malleable to the EU demands looks unconvinced. Quite the contrary, the care for its own political future, will make the current government far more dutybound to implement the EU-recommended reforms. The idea cultivated by some Georgian and foreign pundits and politicians that Georgia will better meet EU standards under the new government after the pre-term elections, looks rather emotional than well-calculated. If consider the balance of political powers in Georgia, as well as composition of the current political landscape, this scenario looks unrealistic.

    And, last but not least,the status of the candidate for EU membership is not an act of mercy for Georgia. It will give the country a strong and unequivocal signal from the EU to take the road to justice, peace and security, or be faced, even more than before, with tension and confrontation that would not be in the interests of any party. It’s time for making extraordinary but geopolitically far-sighted decisions.

    Zaal Anjaparidze, political analyst, Tbilisi, Georgia

  • Public attitudes toward LGBTQI people in Georgia are changing, yet the protection and realization of their rights remain a challenge

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  • Public Defender’s Statement on International Human Rights Day

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    At the end of her speech, the Public Defender addressed the Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia with a recommendation to ensure the timely investigation of crimes committed against representatives of the media, to identify those responsible and to take measures against them in accordance with law, as well as to inform the public about the ongoing investigation.

    She also called on political officials to follow internationally recognized democratic standards and to refrain from being engaged in campaigns aimed at discrediting human rights defenders, including journalists, in order to facilitate their work as much as possible.


    [1] Parliamentary Report of the Public Defender of Georgia 2019, p. 251, available at: <https://bit.ly/3CJscy1> [09.12.2021]; See also the statement of the Public Defender of Georgia of October 24, 2018 on the International obligations of the Government to support the activities of human rights defenders, available at: <https://bit.ly/3kBAySa> [09.12.2021]

    [2] Statements of the Public Defender of Georgia are available on the website: <https://bit.ly/3CDI58Z>, <https://bit.ly/3AAGtMN>, <https://bit.ly/3lLqiWG>, , <https://bit.ly/2W3IlOX> [23.09.2021].

    [3] Information is available on the website: <https://bit.ly/3yajvM8>, <https://bit.ly/3EwXSHX>, <https://bit.ly/3lCyQzZ>, <https://netgazeti.ge/news / 555767 />, <https://bit.ly/3oy0qQw> [09.12.2021].

     

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    Fragile peace after the armistice in Karabakh supported by Russian peacekeepers and the Turkish military observers revealed a tangle of problems waiting for settlement. Currently the most notable are the continued tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia manifested in the armed clashes at times and increasing tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran. The latter considers itself unfairly outflanked during the peace talks on the resolution of the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani armed conflict.

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    CONCLUSION

    The complex geopolitical theatre of the South Caucasus exerts significant influence on the foreign policy identities of the region’s countries. Intra-regional conflicts make the region highly exposed to the influences of its larger neighbors, which play a significant role in shaping the regional security dynamics.

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    Despite the strong divergence in foreign policy and alliance choices of the three South Caucasus states, strategic multilateral partnerships within the region and with the region’s immediate neighbors, appear to be the best possible option to transform fragile stability into a lasting cooperation framework, which in turn is a path to sustainable peace. However, existing tensions between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia on the delimitation and demarcation of state borders, as well as ownership of historical-cultural monuments in the disputed border areas, don’t contribute to the development of full-fledged partnership.

  • Public Defender Demands Criminal Prosecution of Two Persons for Organizing Group Violence and Calling for Violence on July 5

    Two months have passed since the violent events of July 5, but the Georgian Prosecutor's Office has not launched criminal prosecution against any individual for organizing group violence. The Public Defender Nino Lomjaria examined the video footage[1] released by the media and considers that the publicly available evidence reaches the standard of probable cause for launching criminal proceedings against two persons for organizing group violence as well as for publicly calling for violence.

    Pursuant to Article 21 (c) of the Organic Law of Georgia on the Public Defender of Georgia, the Public Defender is entitled to request the initiation of an investigation and/or criminal prosecution if the examination of the case shows elements of crime. Accordingly, the Public Defender has already used the authority granted by the organic law and applied to the Prosecutor's Office with a request to initiate criminal proceedings against Zurab Makharadze and Spiridon Tskipurishvili.

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    It is substantiated in the Public Defender’s proposal that Zurab Makharadze personally led the group violence on July 5, including the removal of protest tents in front of the legislative body and the allocation of various groups to raid the offices of the Shame Movement and Tbilisi Pride.

    Finally, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia, 53 persons were identified as victims of the group violence on July 5, 2021, and criminal proceedings were launched against 27 persons. However, no one has been prosecuted for organizing group violence.

    In addition, the Public Defender made another proposal to the Prosecutor General's Office and demanded the launch of criminal proceedings against Spiridon Tskipurishvili for publicly calling for violent actions. It was established according to the standard of probable cause that on July 5, at about 14:14, the Archpriest of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Spiridon Tskipurishvili, by using a microphone and sound enhancer devices, called on citizens to be violent, thus went beyond the freedom of expression and committed an action forbidden by Article 2391 of the Criminal Code of Georgia – call for violence that creates an obvious, direct and substantial threat of violence.

    The Public Defender continues to gather information about the investigation ongoing into the July 5 violence and, if necessary, will again use the authority given to her by the organic law.

    Source: https://www.ombudsman.ge/eng/akhali-ambebi/sakhalkho-damtsveli-5-ivliss-jgufuri-dzaladobis-organizebisa-da-dzaladobisken-motsodebis-faktebze-2-piris-mimart-siskhlissamartlebrivi-devnis-datsqebas-moitkhovs

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