Luis Navarro, the National Democratic Institute’s Country Director for Georgia. (DFWatch photo.)

DFWatch: What was the methodology of your latest survey? Were there any changes compared to the previous surveys that you’ve done in the past year?

Luis Navarro: The methodology that we use is consistent. We use random route sampling; we use a Kish table and we don’t use substitutions, so all the elements of our polling have been consistent. This poll is slightly different in terms of those places that we chose to have representative samples from, so, east and west Georgia, rural, capital, urban and in this particular instance the capital is a distinct geographic center, so it’s not included either in the urban or in the east Georgia category.

DFW: In the new survey it is noticeable that people from Tbilisi give slightly different answers than people in some other regions.

LN: The single biggest differentiation that we see on issues is geographic. There are some differences among people within age groups, gender, but the most pronounced differences we usually see in geography.

DFW: What do you think is the reason? Can the reason be that people may have more access to the Internet in Tbilisi?

LN: Well actually, what’s funny is that when we do focus groups, the people who most often talk about Internet access are people in Batumi, and so people in Batumi actually seem to receive a disproportionate amount of information via the Internet than anywhere else in Georgia. So while there are large numbers of people who use the Internet in Tbilisi, it appears to be much more prevalent in Batumi.

DFW:Are there any changes in regards to issues which people say are most problematic to them, compared to the surveys done before the parliamentary election in October 2012?

LN: Among the interesting things is that more people identified themselves as unemployed in this survey than in surveys done previously, and I think this might be our high water mark in terms of people assessing themselves as being unemployed, so that’s one change. Secondly, people’s appetite for reform is not as far ahead as their expectations. In the past there seem to be great differences between people’s desire for reform and their expectations of the results. Now that gap is narrower, and for the first time we actually saw that in the area of constitutional reform people had greater expectations of achievements than appetite. So that is a notable difference that we for the first time have seen in our polling. Another interesting fact is that in our polling a statistically equal number of people said that they knew someone personally who have been dismissed from their jobs for political reasons. This was an issue before the elections, obviously, as it pertains to complaints against the former government, and here we are six months later and the number of people is statistically similar. This would suggest that this is a problem that the current government deals with, this as well, and in fact, we see the reports from ISFED, GYLA and Transparency International, concerns expressed about dismissals for political reasons. So this is a statistical validation of that.

DFW: What are the top priorities? Has the picture changed in terms of top problem issues?

LN: In terms of priorities, Georgians’ priorities are essentially the same. They are interested in employment, territorial integrity, and affordable health care. On the local level, you’ve seen a diminishing in the top two issues – cost of communal services and Tbilisi’s specific issue of the linkage of trash and electricity bills. So those issues are still on the top of the list, but they are lower in terms of importance. In terms of national issues jobs, territorial integrity and affordable healthcare – that’s largely unchanged since what we saw around the elections, but despite this and despite the fact that people don’t seem to have registered any particular personal benefit or economic benefit since the election, people are still very optimistic about the direction that the country is going in. People are optimistic about its democratic development and people have faith in the current government’s ability to make changes for them. So that is not to say that there are no problems, but right now people I think are hopeful that the government will succeed.

DFW: What are the issues which people approve or disapprove of about the new government and the new reforms?

LN: Two issues: while the majority of Georgians, or I should say, more Georgians, feel like they are hearing about the issues of importance, the areas that we noted a large number of people who say they are not hearing about a particular issue, are in the areas of jobs and poverty. So people are still anxious to hear a lot about economic interests. Also we noted that almost half of the population was in favor of releasing prisoners. On the one hand, they were in favor of the release, and on the other hand, the single largest group of people to assess the impact of this said that it would be negative. Now some people would argue that if you take the number of people who think that it is positive or no effect, then it’s greater, and therefore this is not a big concern. My response to that is that yes, there is one way of interpreting the data, but it is also equally valid to say that among those people who had an opinion, the largest share were among those people who had a negative opinion. Unlike the people who had a positive assessment, which was sort of spread among three areas of consideration: about restoration of justice, about the presumption of innocence of people who have been released; the people who had a negative assessment were almost universal in their reasoning and that was a concern of increasing crime. So again regardless of how you want to look at this issue, regardless of how any politician wants to talk about this issue, it is accurate to say that among people who expressed their opinion, the largest share was among those who said that it was negative, and within that group the overwhelming resolution was that they are concerned about the increase in crime. I would point out, though, that when you look at it compared to the fact that people were in general supportive of the action and credited parliament’s amnesty legislation as being a vehicle by which this had occurred, that there is at least some reason to believe that as the prime minister said earlier that yes, crime may increase, but people should be patient and I think that the poll indicates that yes, people are concerned about the crime, but in general they are both supportive of the decision and patient about what the possible impact may be.

DFW: The amnesty issue was among the issues about which people were most aware of and in the new survey we see that people are more aware of current events taking place in the country. What may be the reason, in your opinion? Is there more access to media in the regions?

LN: There is no significant change in terms of number of people who watch TV, which is the dominant media since before the election. In our opinion, Georgians were pretty well informed before the election; they continued to be relatively well-informed after the election. I think that the amnesty issue and the contributing factor to the amnesty issue and why so many people were aware of it was because of the importance that the prison scandal played in the outcome of the election and the fact that this was seen as a vehicle by which to rectify some of the fallout from that scandal. I think it is contributing to why people are so focused on following it.

DFW: You plan to publish the next political survey on Monday. In the past there were many questions to which people preferred to answer ‘don’t know’ or didn’t answer. Has it changed? Are people freer to talk about political views?

LN: I disagree with the implication behind the question. I do not think that there is any evidence in our polling either before the election or since the election to demonstrate that the people were afraid. That is not to say that there were no people who experienced pressure, but even post-election we can see that there are people who feel now that they experience the pressure. So I think what is more accurate is that people in the lead up to what was clearly a very contentious, very polarized election, were sort of guarding their prerogative, which is why the largest number of people said that they were either undecided, refused to answer or were supportive of no party. Considering the fact that our last poll before the election was taken almost two months before the election, month and a half before the prisons scandal and so what we have said then, if you refer back to our press release at the time, was that the election would be decided by those people, and as we saw from our cross-tabs, when we compared ‘don’t know’ and ‘refused to answer’ and ‘undecided’ with other questions of the poll, those people fell right in the middle of attitudes about democratic development, direction of the country was going in, whether or not the government made changes that mattered to them. So among the people who were undecided, refused to answer and no-party, they were less optimistic than UNM, more optimistic than Georgian Dream, and so they were the ones who decided the outcome of the election. Now, we’re not running up against an election at the moment. There is a presidential election in six months, but I would say that there is not nearly as much activity around the presidential election as we saw around the parliamentary election. So people are not in the position, where they feel they have to make a choice, at this juncture. I think that it is likely that we are going to see lower numbers in that regards, but we’ll see when we present those numbers on Monday.

DFW: How many surveys do you plan to conduct before the upcoming presidential election?

LN: We will do at least two more surveys between now and the election, and then we expect to do one after the election. That is typical.

DFW: Is the period of NDI mission to Georgia defined? May the NDI finish the mission?

LN: NDI has been in Georgia since 1994 and we receive funding both from the USAID and the SIDA and the decision about us staying or going will be dependent upon where our revenue continues to come from, and as far as we know, we will continue to be funded here, one way or the other.