Citizenship in action in the South Caucasus

Citizenship is a difficult concept to define as its definition changes over time, depending on social, legal, and political contexts. Importantly, it not only encompasses structural (legal and institutional) aspects, but also the everyday practices through which people relate to the state and other citizens. This blog post examines some of the perceptions as to what makes a good citizen across the South Caucasus and the extent to which people’s actions match up with their stated opinions on good citizenship.

CRRC’s 2013 Caucasus Barometer survey asked people in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to rate the importance for good citizens to take various actions, such as voting, obeying laws, following traditions and volunteering, on a scale from 1, not at all important, to 10, extremely important.

There are similarities between what people prioritize in all three countries. In Armenia, the three actions people considered to be most important (i.e. those with the highest mean score) were voting in elections, following traditions and helping those who are worse off, while Azerbaijanis prioritized always obeying laws, following traditions and voting. For Georgians, the top two actions were following traditions and voting, immediately followed by supporting people who are worse off and always obeying laws. It is important to note that people in these countries usually tend towards positive ratings when offered these types of scales during surveys, hence very high average scores observed in the chart below are not very surprising – while relatively low mean scores (e.g. in the cases of doing volunteer work and being critical towards the government) strongly indicate that public opinion considers these qualities unimportant or even irrelevant.

Note: Answer options “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” are excluded from the analysis through this blog post.

The Caucasus Barometer also asked respondents about their activities over the last six months, some of which correspond to the actions that were rated as highly important for being good citizens, including voting, volunteering and helping those who are worse off. Let’s see how much the population of each of the countries reports engagement in these activities.
With voting, strong support – in terms of considering it very important for being a good citizen – in all three countries is backed up by a high proportion of people who report casting a vote in the last national elections. However, it should be kept in mind that participation in elections is traditionally overestimated in survey results, most probably due to social desirability bias, and in this case the same bias is likely to have influenced answers to the question on the importance of voting.
For actions that involve greater participation and commitment, such as volunteering, the story is more complicated. Georgia, where the highest proportion of people said it was extremely important for good citizens to volunteer, in fact had the lowest proportion of people who had volunteered in the past six months: 19% compared to 31% in Armenia and 23% in Azerbaijan. However, those who rated volunteering as being important for being a good citizen were slightly more likely to have volunteered. A similar trend is observed in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Note: Only the answers of those who reported to have volunteered in the last six months are shown. A 10-point scale was used to record respondents’ answers to the question, “How important or unimportant is it for a good citizen to do volunteer work meeting the needs of the community without expecting any compensation?” Code 1 corresponded to the answer “Not important at all,” and code 10 corresponded to the answer “Extremely important.” For the analysis, this scale was re-coded into a 2-point one, with original codes 1 to 7 corresponding to “less important or unimportant,” and codes 8, 9 and 10 – “important”.

As for the final activity, helping people who are worse off, there was no exact match among the questions asking about activities over the last six months. However, answers to the question whether people had contributed to charity, including giving money to beggars, can provide a rough approximation to whether they have helped someone who is worse off. It may be because of not having an exact matching question that this was one activity that showed a big difference between what was reported as important but practiced only by fewer than half of the population in each country who reported having contributed to charity, with Armenia having the highest proportion of people who did so.

The findings discussed in this blog post suggest that there are certain discrepancies between the actions that people say are important for being good citizens and whether they themselves engage in those activities. This is especially so for those activities that require a larger commitment, such as volunteering.

You can find full data from the Caucasus Barometer surveys on our Online Data Analysis tool.

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