Taking partly free voters seriously: autocratic response to voter preferences in Armenia and Georgia
In the introduction of the issue, Koba Turmanidze and Matteo Fummagali ask do voters matter in competitive authoritarian regimes and, if so, how? Do their preferences make any difference in the way in which the regime conceives of policies and goes about policy-making? In their article, they argue that they do, and that incumbents take voters seriously. Crucially, the way the regimes respond to policy demand determines their durability in office. The article explains why, despite strong similarities, the political regime ruling Armenia remained stable over the years (from the mid-1990s), whereas the one in Georgia has been unseated on two occasions (2003–2004 and 2012–2013). Evidence confirms that policy-making and voters’ perceptions thereof also play an important role in determining whether a regime collapses or survives. The incumbents collect information on voter preferences, and devise policies in response to them. Policy-making thus matters and is extremely consequential. Paradoxically, however, policy-making makes a difference in counter-intuitive ways. The article concludes that a regime which refrains from making grand promises, or blatantly contradictory or unrealistic ones, has greater chances of surviving than those that set out to transform society, like Saakashvili’s Georgia. Ultimately, such policies backfire on those who launched them.
In the second article in the issue, Dustin Gilbreath and Koba Turmanidze highlight how state capacity volatility and growth affects political survival. Political science has dedicated extensive attention to the determinants of regime change as well as its relation to state capacity. Less work has focused on incumbent political survival and state capacity. Building on selectorate theory (Bueno De Mesquita et al., 2005), the article suggests that the chance of the party of the incumbent remaining in office is partially a function of the capacity of the state they hold power over. However, the authors also hypothesize that state capacity volatility decreases an incumbent’s chances of winning elections. To empirically test these hypotheses, the article uses a cross country statistical analysis complemented by illustrative case studies of policy making from Armenia and Georgia. The analyses support the above two hypotheses, showing that if the incumbent increases state capacity, it increases their chances of staying in office. However, capacity volatility decreases their chances of survival. While Georgian state capacity developed in fits, jumps, and starts, in Armenia state capacity developed at a slow and steady pace for most of its independence. As the aphorism goes, slow and steady wins the race with politicians being thrown out of office in Georgia and the incumbent in Armenia maintaining its power. Based on the analyses presented in the analyses, the authors suggest that a self-defeating game is at work for reformers.
In the third article in the issue, Dustin Gilbreath and Sona Balasanyan take a historic look at election fraud in Armenia and Georgia. In the article they note that elections on unfair playing fields are common, yet election day fraud can result in authoritarians losing office. The freer the environment, the more an authoritarian must rely on means other than election day fraud to retain office, because they are less capable of coercing the population without facing repercussions. Among those other means is cooptation through public policy. A common theme in the special issue is that public policy has been of greater import in Georgia than Armenia. The article makes a contribution to explaining the phenomenon using comparative case studies of election day fraud in Armenia and Georgia over time. To do so, the article uses methods from the field of election forensics to provide a quantitative comparison of the scale of election day fraud in each country’s elections since 2007 using precinct level election results for parliamentary and presidential elections. The test results suggest, as has been widely believed, that Georgia’s elections have had less election day fraud than Armenia’s during this period. This finding provides a theoretical basis to explain why public policy has been a greater concern in Georgia than Armenia.
In the fourth article in the issue, Giorgi Babunashvili argues that while voters are often assumed to be of tertiary importance in less than democratic contexts – the regime can manipulate, buy, or outright steal their votes goes the predominant logic – in reality, voters not only matter but engage in retrospective voting in Georgia, a country with imperfect political competition. Analysis of two waves of nationally representative survey data from 2012 to 2015 supports the retrospective voting theory, with a positive relationship between voter support for the incumbent party and positive assessments of government policies related to socio-economic, democratization, and security issues. Citizens who assess government policies negatively are more prone to voting for opposition candidates or not voting at all compared to those who are more satisfied with the government's performance in Georgia. Notably, these findings are very similar for two governments led by two very different parties in Georgia: the United National Movement (2008–2012) and Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia (since 2012). Hence, the author concludes that disregarding voters’ preferences has negative consequences for the legitimation and survival of the incumbent.
In the fifth article in this issue, Koba Turmanidze asks: Lie a little or promise a lot? This is a question many politicians face when campaigning before elections. The paper examines whether voters support ambiguous pre-election promises in Armenia and Georgia using an experimental design and if so, what it tells us about accountability mechanisms and a potential accountability trap. The accountability trap emerges when voters cannot hold their elected officials accountable for their promises due to their ambiguity and become disillusioned with political participation. The paper looks at how voters’ expected political behaviour changes in response to randomly assigned types of electoral promises from a hypothetical party. The paper shows a positive effect of ambiguity: if a party makes an ambiguous promise, it will do significantly better in Georgia and at least not worse in Armenia than a party promising a specific policy option. The effect of ambiguity partially explains why parties have been poor at putting forward coherent electoral programs in Armenia and Georgia. More broadly, the findings contribute to understanding the problem of accountability in hybrid regimes, which may lead to representation crises.
In the sixth article in the issue, Rati Shubladze and Tsisana Khundadze point out that voters care about policy, and this is true for democracies as well as hybrid regimes. To show how incumbents’ policy choice influences political continuity and change they look at public policies in Armenia and Georgia from 2004 to 2013. The paper is grounded in Gerschewski’s theoretical framework that views legitimation, repression, and co-optation as the three strategies or pillars of stability in less than democratic regimes. The authors describe each pillar as a set of specific policies designed by ruling parties to gain legitimacy in the eyes of voters, as well as policies aimed at co-optation and/or repression of political opponents. Hence, they demonstrate that the key to the incumbent’s electoral survival is the stabilization process between pillars, i.e. complementary application of policies based on available resources. However, the application of different stabilization strategies is not enough and timing, organization, and balance between pillars are also crucial for maintaining voters’ support for the incumbent. Based on secondary statistical evidence and primary qualitative data analysis, they show how the Armenian government managed to balance the pillars of stability by the effective and well-timed application of different policies, while the government of Georgia failed to use relevant pillars of stabilization when one of the pillars did not work to the incumbent’s advantage.
Overall, the issue makes the case that voters - even in less than democratic contexts - matter. To view the articles, click on the links above or here for the entire issue.
By Yevgenya Jenny Paturyan
Think tanks are considered to be an important part of civil society: providers and keepers of expertise on important social, economic, environmental, political and other issues. Organizations like Chatham House and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace come to mind. In addition to ‘pure’ think tanks, there is a plethora of organizations that combine research with advocacy and action, Transparency International being a prominent example.
Interview by Dustin Gilbreath
By: Dustin Gilbreath
CRRC’s third annual Methodological Conference: Transformations in the South Caucasus and its Neighbourhood
შიდა მიგრაცია საქართველოში: რა ვიცით მის შესახებ CRRC-ის კავკასიის ბარომეტრის მონაცემების საფუძვლეზე?არსებული შეფასებების თანახმად, მსოფლიო მასშტაბით შიდა მიგრანტთა რაოდენობა ბევრად აღემატება საერთაშორისო მიგრანტთა რაოდენობას. სამწუხაროდ, საქართველოში ძალიან ცოტა მონაცემი არსებობს შიდა მიგრანტების რაოდენობისა და მათი გეოგრაფიული განაწილების შესახებ. საქართველოს სტატისტიკის ეროვნული სამსახურის შინამეურნეობების ინტეგრირებული გამოკვლევები რეგულარულად აგროვებს ინფორმაციას ქვეყანაში შიდა მიგრაციის შესახებ. სახელმწიფო სერვისების განვითარების სააგენტო კოორდინაციას უწევს მოსახლეობის რეგისტრაციას საცხოვრებელი ადგილის მიხედვით.
The recent history of the South Caucasus as seen by the world’s media – Part 1, Armenia and Azerbaijan
By Till Bruckner
By Nino Zubashvili
By Dustin Gilbreath
In terms of the business findings, CRRC's Media Survey (undertaken in September/October 2009) generated extensive data that is available to help media make good business decisions. One recent presentation, summarized here, focused on showing the diversity of data that is available.
Food Safety in Georgia: views from retailers, producers and consumers in Tbilisi and Samtskhe-Javakheti
Book Review | The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict and Nationhood in the Caucasus | Christoph Zürcher
Brookings Index of Regime Weakness | State Rebuilding or State Collapse in the Caucasus | The Annals of Data
Here are some basic tips and tricks we found useful.
Book Review: Georgia Diary: A Chronicle of War and Political Chaos in the Post-Soviet Caucasus | Thomas Goltz
Visa liberalization: How much do people in Georgia know about the conditions of visa-free travel to the EU?
CRRC’s previous blog posts have shown that the population of Georgia had rather moderate expectations of the recent visa liberalization with the Schengen zone countries, especially when it comes to the question of how much ordinary people will benefit from it. Europe Foundation’s latest survey on Knowledge of and Attitudes towards the European Union in Georgia, conducted in May 2017, provides a more nuanced understanding on how people in Georgia feel about this process and to what extent they are familiar with the conditions of visa liberalization.
Visa liberalization: How much do people in Georgia know about the conditions of visa-free travel to the EU?CRRC’s previous blog posts have shown that the population of Georgia had rather moderate expectations of the recent visa liberalization with the Schengen zone countries, especially when it comes to the question of how much ordinary people will benefit from it. Europe Foundation’s latest survey on Knowledge of and Attitudes towards the European Union in Georgia, conducted in May 2017, provides a more nuanced understanding on how people in Georgia feel about this process and to what extent they are familiar with the conditions of visa liberalization.
What are young people’s values and how are these different from older generations’ values in Georgia?As Georgian society is going through social and cultural changes, it is important to understand people’s beliefs and values. Comparing the values of young people to those of the older generations is also important. This blog post summarizes the findings of a study that examined the values of young people aged 18 to 25, and analysed how these values are different from the values of older people in Georgia, based on both quantitative (World Values Survey, 2014) and qualitative data (40 in-depth interviews conducted in 2016). The study looked at values, perceptions, attitudes and tolerance towards different minority groups in Georgia. It concludes that in many cases, the younger generation shares more modern views and values, while the older generations are more inclined to support traditional values and hold conservative points of view.
During Sargsyan’s incumbency, dissatisfaction with government grew and support for protest increasedSerzh Sargsyan, formerly the President and then Prime Minister of Armenia, resigned from office on April 23rd, 2018, following 11 days of peaceful protest. Over the past 10 years, which coincide with Sargsyan’s time in office, Armenians were increasingly dissatisfied with their government. At the same time, the country witnessed growing civic engagement, with “youth-driven, social media-powered, issue-specific civic activism,” referred to as “civic initiatives”. CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer data from 2008 to 2017 reflect both these trends.
In the December 2017 CRRC/NDI survey, pollution was the second most commonly named “infrastructural” issue, with 23% of the population choosing it in the respective show card. Only roads were named more often, by 33%. Approximately equal shares of men and women named pollution: 25% of women and 20% of men; similarly, there was no difference in the frequency of naming this issue by age.
The Caucasus Barometer survey regularly asks people, “Which of the following statements do you agree with: “‘People are like children; the government should take care of them like a parent’ or ‘Government is like an employee; the people should be the bosses who control the government.’” Approximately half of the population of Georgia (52%) agreed in 2017 with the former statement and 40% with the latter. Responses to this question have fluctuated to some extent over time, but overall, attitudes are nearly equally split.
But what do people want?
Georgians are enthusiastic in supporting the country’s accession to the European Union. Since 2012, when the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and CRRC-Georgia started tracking attitudes, three quarters of Georgians approved of the government’s goal of joining the EU, on average. What motivates Georgians to support the Union, or alternatively, to abandon support? A survey experiment included in the latest CRRC/NDI poll suggests potential economic burdens have a modest yet significant effect on support for membership. Results do not support the common belief that a potential military threat from Russia dampens Georgians’ support for the EU.