USAID Political Party Assessment of Europe and Eurasia

Admittedly we forgot to post this earlier, but we believe it is even more important with the upcoming elections in Georgia.

Democracy International, contracted by USAID, released a report on political party assistance across Europe and Eurasia. In order to carry out fieldwork, they selected four countries (Serbia, Romania, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan). There were a wide number of selection criteria variables, including the fact that both party institutes, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), had to be present in the country. In effect, this created an endogeneity problem in the research design, where countries were studied not because of their inherent differences but because the US government had invested the most resources in them. Of course, one country from each region was also chosen ensuring regional variation but also decreasing variation along other axes.

The report is long and includes an impressive theoretical overview. I will discuss only three subjects, which may be of interest to blog readers and discussed in the research:1) the relationship between political party assistance and development 2) survey work and 3) democratization in Georgia. However, I would encourage anyone interested in how USAID operates in the region to read the report and to also analyze it for the subtexts, since all documents put out by the government (even if it is contracted) will attempt to glaze over (or at least cover up) some things.


An important theoretical point was raised in the report: almost no literature exists on causality between political party assistance and development. While many other aspects of democracy have been thoroughly explored, most notably elections, how party assistance shapes democracy is a area ripe for study. I think one of the main reasons this has not been studied is the necessity of long-term on the ground fieldwork to trace out the processes of political party development. Since a comparative basis is needed to do so, the work involved seems particularly overwhelming. This could be an interesting place to create teams of local researchers to work on the ground in a well selected group of countries, to trace these processes over time in a standardized way.


The article highlights survey work, which is in one of the areas traditionally covered under party assistance and alludes to the fact that surveying has often been overemphasized and targeted not at domestic constituencies, but at the international and development community. Conversely, the report argues that the nexus between the survey work itself and any public policy outcomes is crucial and should be the focus of any polling efforts. If anything, the report underestimates the lack of sophistication that parties have in interpreting these results and the basic lack of understanding that they have in basic research methods. However, I would argue that the answer is not to give up on this work, but to work much harder on helping local government understand the basis of social research. I also think that does not emphasize enough the role between an active research community and public policy research. While the main goal of public opinion research is to inform politicians, the quality of the research often comes under fire in the region and there is no research community capable of demonstrating the quality of the polling and falsifying claims by polling companies that are unskilled. In order to add this concept to that of major international funders, would involve a much more holistic concept of the notion of development, which is generally missing from the debate. Also missing is any mention of the importance of mixing both quantitative and qualitative methods in polling, since the questions asked on the polls also may need to be better refined that they have been in the past.


In the Caucasus, Georgia was chosen for the analysis. Interestingly, the report, while of course lauding the Rose Revolution, notes many of the shortcomings of the the United National Movement (UNM) as a party. It uses the term “bandwagoning” usually used in the field of international relations to explain domestic Georgian politics, in which, according to the report, all of the major forces in the country including the media and civil society elites have become closely affiliated with UNM. According to the report, “these bandwagon effects in societies with weak democratic institutions can produce cycles of political convulsion where an initially liberally-oriented dominant party, facing few challenges from an effective opposition, loses dynamism and popular support,thereby engendering new rounds of political revolution.” This statement is worrying for the future of Georgian democracy and may help to put the recent Okruashvili scandal into starker perspective.

Again, the full report can be found here.