Support for Saakashvili appears to be fading
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As demonstrators took to the streets of Georgia Thursday to demand the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, Gallup Polls reveal that Georgians themselves do not express the same confidence in the honesty of their elections that foreign observers do. However, confidence in the honesty of elections doubled between 2008 and 2007 (34% vs. 17%).
The largest opposition rally since last year's conflict with Russia is the result of growing frustration with Saakashvili, who opponents say has been more authoritarian than democratic, failing to achieve many of the reforms he promised during the Rose Revolution that brought him to power in 2003.
In January 2008, Saakashvili won re-election by receiving 52% of the vote in an early-called election. Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreed that "the vote was conducted fairly, if not optimally." According to Dieter Boden, director of the OSCE's long-tem observation project in Georgia, "This election wasn't brilliant, there were many blunders, mistakes, and imperfections -- but nothing that would lead us to the conclusion that a large-scale rigging attempt had taken place."
However, in Georgia, television is the main source of news, and data from IPM Georgia Media monitoring suggest inequitable and clearly preferential television news coverage of Saakashvili. Between Nov. 7, 2007, and Jan. 5, 2008, Saakashvili was mentioned on five major TV channels 2,273 times, far more than the other candidates. There were 609 positive mentions of Saakashvili, while Davit Gamkrelidze received only 104, and the rest of the nominees had even fewer positive mentions. It is important to note that the government shut down opposition-leaning Imedi TV for all but two weeks in this same period and suspended news programs on private TV stations during Georgia's state of emergency.
Gallup Poll data find Georgians increasingly critical of their media. The percentage of respondents who said they are confident in the quality and integrity of media in Georgia fell from 64% in 2007 to 42% in 2008. Georgians' declining confidence in their media could possibly reflect dismay with the government's suspension and closure of privately owned TV stations, but it also may reflect the opinions of those who supported the government's claim that Imedi TV was inciting protesters to overthrow the government.
Taken together, the Gallup data suggest much room for improvement for building a real democracy in Georgia, including honest elections in which all nominees, as well as all Georgians, will have freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of press.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 1,000 adults in Georgia, aged 15 and older, conducted between 2006 and 2008. Gallup most recently polled in Georgia in June 2008. For security reasons, Gallup did not poll in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.