Why National Movement lost points on NDI’s survey

On July 10, the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) published its third survey on Georgian public opinion this year. The survey was conducted from June 4 to 22. The research evaluated attitudes of Georgian society and emphasized important issues. Later on July 16, NDI presented the ratings of Georgian political parties. Opinions regarding the survey have split again.

According to the newly published survey, the National Movement Party is still the number one political force in Georgia. On the question “Whom would you vote for if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow?” 36% of respondents preferred the ruling party. Still, these results show that the National Movement (UNM) has lost 11 percentage points since the last poll was conducted in late February.

The reasons for such a fall may be due to the controversial activities of the Chamber of Control, as well as the drastic measures taken against billionaire opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The Chamber of Control, an independent public institution which conducts audits of the state budget, public finances and the activities of the public administration, has been criticized by some Georgian NGOs and former US Ambassador to Georgia John Bass, for taking questionable measures and decisions against opposition parties and particularly– the Georgian Dream Coalition led by Ivanishvili.

The issues related to Bidzina Ivanishvili’s citizenship and the seizure of part of his private property has recently become a prominent story. According to the NDI survey, the majority of Georgians condemn the drastic measures taken against the leader of the Georgian opposition.

Another significant factor may have been the fact that the Georgian Dream Coalition’s pre-election has included a very active schedule. The coalition has visited the Georgian regions and has been adept at communicating their message. In the past, the lack of alternative information or news source was a huge problem. Now, the party is coming to the people.

Conversely, it appears that due to the oppressive tactics used by the ruling party and a hard regional campaign, the main opposition force gained 8 more points in comparison with the February results, garnering 18%.

The Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) maintained the same percentage of supporters and sat at third place in the survey.

Interestingly, it was the first time when NDI publicly presented the ratings of political parties. Traditionally NDI used to inform political parties regarding ratings privately; and only then could the parties proliferate information basing upon their own will. Nevertheless, NDI was forced to break its tradition after speculations appeared during the last survey presented on March 27.

On March 27, NDI issued a survey that revealed the ratings of Georgia’s political parties. It has been done according to an old tradition – privately. Shortly after, the ruling party The National Movement began the speculations regarding the results of the survey.

Consequently, the Georgian Dream Coalition voted had no confidence in the NDI survey. Later the coalition sent an open letter to now former US Ambassador to Georgia, John Bass, asking to him to prevent the International Republican Institute (IRI) and NDI from conducting and publishing surveys regarding political parties’ ratings during the pre-election period. In conclusion, NDI decided to make political parties’ ratings open for society, so no one could manipulate the numbers.

The newly published survey has been recognized by The National Movement and Christian-Democratic Movement. Meanwhile, the Georgian Dream still disapproves the survey.

Senior ruling party lawmaker Giorgi Gabashvili emphasized that NDI polls are credible and mainly match with those commissioned by the ruling party itself: “If we consider the so-called undecided voters, we have higher support. NDI’s results are in accordance with the results shown in the other surveys.”

MP Levan Vepkhvadze of the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) noted the stable percentage of supporters concluding that nothing has changed since February, because CDM hadn’t launched political campaign yet.

In contrast, on July 16, the Georgian Dream Coalition spokesperson Maia Panjikidze publicly declared that they do not trust these polls. “We have stated a number of times previously that these polls do not cause confidence, so I am not going to comment on specific figures [in NDI poll], because we do not know the methodology of these surveys… and we do don’t know how the field work was carried out… So, our position on the issue has not changed.”

In the same day, Georgian Dream Coalition expert and adviser Gia Khukhashvili, criticized the survey conducted by NDI, emphasizing its lack of professionalism. His criticisms were aired during the TV show Spectrum, hosted by David Akubardia.

According to Khukhashvili, respondents have been requested to answer “unprofessional and preconceived” questions and consequently, the leadership of the National Movement party in the final results of the survey has been guaranteed beforehand.

All in all, it seems that the National Movement is gradually losing support in the Georgian regions. Meanwhile, the Georgian Dream Coalition is gaining more votes. And still the credibility of the surveys conducted by NDI is seen to be more actual than the results itself.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here. PDF version.

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