Is the Georgian government doing enough to secure EU membership?
Note: This article first appeared on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint effort of CRRC Georgia and OC Media. It was written by Dustin Gilbreath, a non-resident Senior Fellow at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article are of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of NDI, CRRC-Georgia, or any related entity.
CRRC Georgia data suggests that while the majority of Georgians want to join the EU, they are largely split along partisan lines on whether their government is doing enough to secure the country’s candidate status.
Georgia has long stated that it aims to join both the European Union and NATO. However, the government’s recent actions, including campaigning for the foreign agent draft law, increasingly critical rhetoric on Ukraine, and the propagation of conspiracy theories suggesting that the West was attempting to draw Georgia into the war in Ukraine have called its dedication to Euro-Atlantic integration into question.
Georgia was denied EU candidacy last year, and obligated to fulfil 12 criteria laid out by the EU for its bid to be re-examined by Brussels.
Data from CRRC Georgia and the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) December 2022 poll suggests that the public’s support for membership remains as strong as ever. However, a majority think the government is not doing enough to support the country’s bid, and the public is split over how the country’s foreign policy has developed over the last five years.
The CRRC and NDI survey has consistently shown that a large majority of the Georgian public supports the country’s membership in the European Union. Since April 2014, between 61% and 83% of the public has reported support for the government’s stated goal of joining the European Union, with all bar one survey finding that over 70% of the public is in favour of the goal. In the most recent wave of the survey, 81% reported approving Georgia’s membership bid, slightly up from 75% in July–August of 2022.
Despite widespread support for Georgia’s EU bid, a slight majority of the public (56%) reported that the government is not doing enough (38%) or doing nothing at all in support of EU membership (18%).
In contrast, only 30% reported that the government was doing everything it could to ensure Georgia’s membership. A further 13% were uncertain and 1% refused to answer the question.
In the July and August edition of the CRRC–NDI survey a similar question was asked, with 27% of the public reporting that the government did everything it could to gain candidate status, 49% reporting it did not do enough, and the remaining share of the public either reporting they did not agree with either sentiment (8%) or that they were uncertain or unwilling to answer the question (16%).
The public was also asked whether Georgia had grown closer to the EU, distanced itself from it, or if the relationship has remained the same as it was over the last five years.
The public was split on this, with roughly equal shares reporting that Georgia had grown closer to the EU (30%) and that Georgia’s relationship with the EU remained the same as it was five years ago (29%). A quarter of the public (24%) reported that Georgia had distanced itself from the EU. One in six (15%) report they are uncertain, while 1% refused to answer the question.
While the data show no partisan divide in terms of support for Georgia’s membership in the European Union, the other two questions show clear divisions between partisans over both how Georgia’s relationship has developed with the European Union and the government’s efforts at gaining candidate status.
While 59% of Georgian Dream supporters felt that the government was doing everything it could for Georgia’s bid, only 7% of the United National Movement’s (UNM) supporters and 19% of those who support no party felt the same. Similarly, 51% of Georgian Dream supporters believed that Georgia has got closer to the EU over the last five years, while only 14% of the UNM’s supporters and a quarter (24%) who reported they support no party felt the same.
While the public remains supportive of Georgia’s membership bid in the European Union, they were split over both the government’s efforts at moving Georgia closer to the EU and how they perceived the relationship’s dynamics over the past half-decade, prior to attempts to adopt the foreign agents law.
As with many perceptions of the affairs of the day, views on these issues are split along partisan lines. However, it is clear that Georgia’s bid for membership in the European Union is increasingly on the rocks.
The data used in this article is available here.
Taking partly free voters seriously: autocratic response to voter preferences in Armenia and GeorgiaDo voters in less than democratic contexts matter or are elections simply facades used to create a veneer of democratic accountability for domestic and international actors? Within the Autocratic Response to Voter Preferences in Armenia and Georgia project, funded by Academic Swiss Caucasus Net, CRRC-Georgia and CRRC-Armenia aimed to help answer this question, at least for Georgia and Armenia. On October 27, Caucasus Survey published the results of the project in a special issue, available here.
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?
While many things could divide the public, what do the people think and which groups report more and fewer sources of division? The April 2019 NDI-CRRC poll suggests that there are fewer perceived reasons for division in rural areas and among ethnic minorities.
The long-fought-over electoral reform was a compromise which represents two steps forward after three steps had been taken back.
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In times of crisis, support for governments often rises in what is known as a rallying around the flag effect. The COVID-19 crisis in Georgia has been no exception.
Data from around the world has shown rallying around the flag effects in many countries during the pandemic, with a few exceptions. Georgia has followed this broader pattern, with performance ratings tripling for many actors and institutions between November/December 2019 and May 2020.
While personality in politics matters greatly for the Georgian public, data from this year shows that for Georgian Dream and United National Movement voters, policy is still important.
A recent CRRC Georgia policy brief argued that what was really dividing Georgians politically was personalities rather than policies. Data from the August 2020 CRRC and NDI survey provides further evidence for this idea.
However, the data also shows a difference between Georgian Dream (GD) and United National Movement (UNM) voters in terms of policy preferences and that economic policy is the most important issue for a plurality of voters.
With the pandemic still raging and accompanying economic restrictions still in force, Georgians are unsurprisingly pessimistic about their economic future. This holds true especially for supporters of the opposition United National Movement Party, above all other party supporters.
COVID-19 restrictions have impacted people’s economic activity heavily. This is reflected in key economic indicators such as GDP, which declined by 5.9% year on year between January and November 2020.
It is also reflected in employment, with fewer people reporting starting new jobs and more people reporting having lost one, according to the 2020 Caucasus Barometer.
Each government of Georgia has had a wide range of successes; but how do the public see these successes from Shevardnadze’s time to the present?
When Eduard Shevardnadze’s government is mentioned in Georgia today, it tends to be connected with the dark times Georgia experienced in the 1990s. Yet, his government also saw the introduction of the Georgian Lari, resulting in a stable exchange rate. The United National Movement is credited with fighting petty corruption, and oversaw a period of relatively high economic growth, while at the same time failing to avoid the disastrous 2008 war with Russia. The Georgian Dream government too is seen as having had some success, for example, in reducing the prison population, from what was among the highest in the world. At the same time, incidents like the Gavrilov Nights and issues around election integrity are often cited as failures.
While each Georgian government has had a range of successes, as described in another post published today, they have each had their own spectacular failures.
From Shevardnadze’s failure to establish state power outside Tbilisi, to the human rights abuses under the UNM and Gavrilov’s Nights under Georgian Dream, every government has had significant shortcomings.
While these are some of the most memorable, little research has been conducted on what the public thinks are the largest failings of each government. Data released on Tuesday from a CRRC Georgia survey conducted in partnership with the Levan Mikeladze Foundation and Carnegie Europe provides a picture of the public’s views of the largest successes and failures of government.
Війна Росії з Україною шокувала світ. Вона також шокувала Грузію, а нове опитування від CRRC Georgia викриває ступінь наявних політичних наслідків.
Наслідки війни, що стосуються зовнішньої та внутрішньої політики Грузії, виявилися доволі масштабними. Офіційна позиція Грузії щодо війни була суперечливою: в той час як прем’єр-міністр Іраклі Гарібашвілі категорично заявив, що Грузія не приєднається до санкцій, накладених Заходом проти Росії, президент Грузії Саломе Зурабішвілі почала медійний та дипломатичний бліц у Європі, висловлюючи рішучу підтримку Україні.
Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, at least 1.2 million Russian citizens have entered Georgia, equivalent to roughly 30% of Georgia’s population. While the number of Russian citizens who have decided to stay in Georgia remains unclear, the impact of this mass migration is strongly felt in rising rents and concerns over the country’s security.