The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Caucasus Research Resource Center in Georgia (CRRC-Georgia) jointly organized an international conference on public opinion research and its role in fostering democratic processes, which took place on January 23, 2017 in Tbilisi. The conference, under the headline “Trends Behind the Numbers: Bridging Policies and Needs”, gathered politicians, media and NGO representatives, as well as pollsters and researchers from around the world to share their experiences, knowledge and challenges associated with the polling.
The speakers of the conference included:
- Mr. John McTernan - a highly-regarded political strategist, writer and commentator;
- Ms. Ana Maria Arumi - news and documentary producer, providing public opinion research, analysis and reporting for elections, news programs, public affairs and communications research programs;
- Mr. Iago Kachkachishvili - Professor of Sociology at Tbilisi State University;
- Mr. Beka Natsvlishvili - Georgian Dream (GD) representative;
- Mr. Zurab Tchiaberashvili - United National Movement (UNM) representative;
- Mr. Tornike Sharashenidze - Head of the MA Program of International Affairs in the Georgian Institute for Public Affairs (GIPA);
- Michael Robbins - Director of Arab Barometer and a regular contributor to the Washington Post's Monkey Cage, with his works being published in Foreign Policy and The Conversation among other publications;
- Ms. Mary O'Hagan - NDI Ukraine Director;
- Mr. Aaron Erlich - Assistant Professor of Political Science at McGill University;
- Ms. Nino Robakidze - a Journalist, Editor, Producer and a Program Coordinator at Transparency International in Georgia;
- Mr. Hans Gutbrod - Head of Transparify;
- Mr. David Mermin - a Pollster, Political Strategist and a Partner at Lake Research Partners.
The US Ambassador - H. E. Ian C. Kelly, Swedish Ambassador - H. E. Martina Quick, and the British Ambassador - H. E. Justin McKenzie Smith made the opening remarks underlying the importance of polling in democracies. The event consisted of an opening sessions and three thematic panels, which included: Polling and Elections; Polls in Policy-making; and, Future of Polling: challenges and recommendations. At the end of every thematic panel, the moderators led the discussions.
It is noteworthy, that the public opinion surveys conducted by CRRC-Georgia two to three times per year since 2008, has been financed by SIDA, whereas since 2017, the polls will be conducted with the financial support of the British Embassy in Georgia.
Public opinion polls were agreed to provide valuable information for reducing an information asymmetry between policy makers and citizens. However polarization and confrontation within the political spectrum towards polls in recent years have discredited public opinion research in Georgia.Given these challenges, the conference tried to explore venues of potential cooperation among pollsters, the government, political parties and the academic world, in order to better anticipate and understand trends in public opinion on important issues concerning the future of Georgia. The participants discussed the ways to increase quality and trust towards public opinion research and addressed aspects of strategic use of data in policymaking.