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The chair of the ruling Georgian Dream Party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is the most negatively viewed politician in Georgia, according to a new poll by the National Democratic Institute.
The poll suggested disappointment in the government, the majority of the country’s institutions, and its politicians. While 46% of those surveyed said the country was going in the wrong direction, the majority still supported EU and NATO membership.
[Read on OC Media: Analysis | Pessimism about Georgia’s direction hides room for optimism]
The findings were based on the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI)’s April 2019 survey, carried out by CRRC Georgia.
According to the survey, a growing number of Georgians think the government is performing poorly compared to surveys conducted in March and December 2018. As many as 56% of the population said the government was performing badly, while only 36% felt the government was acting well.
The data was acquired through face-to-face interviews with a nationwide representative sample of Georgia’s adult population, including oversamples in Azeri and Armenian ethnic minority settlements. It included 2,927 completed interviews. The average margin of error was +/- 2.3%.
Who Georgians like and dislike
According to the poll, 60% of Georgians were still undecided who they’d vote for if parliamentary elections were to take place tomorrow.
It showed that 37% of the population did not support any party, while 21% supported Georgian Dream and 15% supported the United National Movement (UNM).
The highest number of respondents, 39%, said they had a negative view of Bidzina Ivanishvili when asked about a list of 37 politicians; 21% said they had a positive view of him and 35% were neutral.
Former president Mikheil Saakashvili was in the top three politicians in terms of the number of people with positive views of him, at 31%, though 32% said they viewed him negatively.
At the top of the list of the most positively viewed politicians were Health Minister Davit Seergeenko and Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, both with 40% approval ratings.
President Salome Zurabishvili was viewed positively by 28% and negatively by 27%. Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze was viewed positively by 26% and negatively by 20%.
The poll also asked Georgians to rate the performance of politicians. Only 16% said that Irakli Kobakhidze, the speaker of the Georgian Parliament was performing well. He was followed by Bakhtadze with 20% and Zurabishvili with 20%.
Forty-three per cent of Tbilisi residents said mayor Kakha Kaladze was performing well; 23% said he was performing badly while 30% assessed his performance as average.
Thirty-one per cent have never heard of the foreign minister
The survey findings suggested that some seemingly famous politicians, who often appear on TV were actually quite unknown.
For example, 41% of the population said they had never heard of Giorgi Kobulia, Georgia's former Economy Minister who was controversially fired by the Prime Minister only nine months after his appointment.
[Read more on Kobulia’s dismissal on OC Media: Georgian PM dismisses Economy Minister Giorgi Kobulia]
Other prominent politicians who were not well known included the deputy chair of the parliament Tamar Chugoshvili — 33% said they had never heard of her — and Shalva Shavgulidze of the European Georgia and Free Democrats bloc.
The latter will participate in the run-off by-election for a parliamentary seat representing Tbilisi’s Mtatsminda District, after winning 37% of votes in the first round and denying his main opponent from Georgian Dream the 50% of votes needed to win outright.
In another example, 31% had never heard of Georgia’s Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani, who has served in the position since June 2018.
Georgians like the performance of the church
When it came to the performance of institutions, the Georgian Orthodox Church topped the list with a 61% positive assessment. Only 7% said it had performed badly while 21% evaluated it as average.
In addition, 62% of Georgians thought religion united people as a society, while 29% disagreed.
According to the survey, Georgians also said the Church should have an influence on political decision-making — 46% were in favour while only 39% disagreed.
Slight setback in support for EU membership
The number of those who said Georgia would benefit more from European and Euro-Atlantic integration has surged significantly since NDI’s 2015 survey, from 45% to 66%.
The number of those who said that Georgia would benefit more from fostering better relations with Russia dropped from 30% to 21%.
Asked if the EU and NATO unite Georgians, 46% and 45% said that they did while around 30% disagreed.
In contrast, 73% of the population said they believed Russia divides society, and 50% agreed that the dissolution of the USSR was a good thing.
However, support for EU and NATO membership dropped since December 2018. Compared to December 2018, when 83% of Georgians were in favour of joining the EU, the survey found that only 77% now supported EU membership. That being said, only 13% of the population said they opposed joining the EU.
The key factors for supporting EU membership was to improve the economy, providing greater security for Georgia, and creating jobs.
The main concerns regarding EU membership were that it might create conflict with Russia, that people preferred to have closer ties with Russia, and that it might weaken Georgia’s cultural identity.
The main factor hindering Georgia’s EU membership, according to 36% of those surveyed, was territorial conflicts in Georgia.
Since spring 2017, when Georgians were granted visa-free access most of the EU, only 8% said they had travelled to the Schengen area, while 90% said they had not.
NDI’s in-depth analyses showed that ‘Speaking about the potential economic burden from the EU lowers EU support, regardless of whether you mention Russia or not’.
It also identified that a person’s socio-economic status and ethnicity are the best predictors of EU support and that fears of losing one’s cultural identity still remains the biggest concern.
‘Poor democracy’ named an obstacle to NATO membership
There was a drop in the support for NATO membership since December 2018’s survey, from 78% to 74%.
The top three reasons for supporting NATO membership were greater security for Georgia, improvement of the economy, and improved chances to restore territorial integrity.
Those opposed to membership said it would cause conflict with Russia, that Georgia would lose more territory, and that membership would not protect Georgia.
A majority, 55%, said that Georgia was not ready for NATO membership. Only 28% disagreed with this.
The top three factors preventing Georgia’s NATO membership were listed as Russia, Georgia’s territorial conflicts, and Georgia’s level of democracy.
Where do Georgians get their information from?
Only 28% of the population said they never used the internet while 65% said they used it at least once a week.
The poll showed that online media was the main source of information for only 21%, while the majority, 72%, relied on television as their primary source of information.
Asked what TV channel they trusted the most 32% named government-leaning Imedi TV while 28% named the opposition-leaning Rustavi 2; TV Pirveli came third with just 4%.
Only 14% said they watched news coverage on non-Georgian TV channels. The top four non-Georgian channels were all Russian.