09TBILISI522, GEORGIA: IRI POLL SHOWS THE ECONOMY IS PRIMARY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI522 2009-03-19 15:17 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO4031
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0522/01 0781517
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 191517Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1207
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000522 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
TAGS: PGOV ECON PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: IRI POLL SHOWS THE ECONOMY IS PRIMARY 
CONCERN, BUT TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY STILL IMPORTANT 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 0023 
     B. 08 TBILISI 1987 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  The much anticipated poll from the USAID 
funded International Republican Institute (IRI) presented to 
the Ambassador on March 18, showed polling numbers for 
President Saakashvili and the United National Movement (UNM) 
have dropped somewhat from their post-war high in September 
2008, but remain far higher than any other opposition leader. 
 Polling data shows the Georgian public is rethinking who is 
to blame for the August war although it still blames Russia, 
and fewer than 50 percent of the public believe that 
demonstrations are an acceptable form of social protest. 
Other than Giorgi Targamadze (Christian Democratic Movement 
"CDM") whose numbers remain strong, neither parliamentary 
opposition leaders nor non-parliamentary opposition leaders 
seem to be making much headway.  Widely perceived among 
Georgia's political elites as potential challengers to 
President Saakashvili, former Georgian Ambassador to the UN 
Irakli Alasania (Alliance for Georgia "Alliance") and Nino 
Burjanadze's (Democratic Movement - United Georgia) polling 
numbers indicate that neither has gained significant 
resonance.  Economic well-being is the dominant issue for 
Georgians, but Georgia's territorial integrity remains the 
other major issue on the country's mind.  End Summary. 
 
2.  (C)  Comment:  While President Saakashvili and the UNM 
are not universally popular, they still retain broad public 
support especially when compared with their challengers. 
Economic uncertainty dominates the concerns of everyday 
Georgians, as it does with many throughout the world because 
of the world economic crisis, and has negatively affected 
President Saakashvili's rating; however, polls indicate 
Saakashvili and the UNM would be the decided favorite to win 
new elections if they were held today.  The Lithuanian lead 
pollster for the project noted that Saakashvili and his 
Government actually enjoy higher approval ratings than other 
governments also facing the economic crisis.  Post's January 
assessment (ref A) still holds; Saakashvili and the UNM 
remain potentially vulnerable on the economy if an opposition 
political figure can present a compelling alternative or the 
situation gets dramatically worse.  However, as in January, 
no non-parliamentary opposition figure has yet provided a 
coherent alternative political vision in general, much less 
on economic policy.  By focusing solely on new elections and 
recriminations of President Saakashvili, the 
non-parliamentary opposition message appears to ignore the 
major concerns of the majority of average Georgians.  End 
Comment. 
 
Poll Result - Saakashvili and UNM Drop 
 
3.  (C)  President Saakashvili's favorability rating (54 
positive, 38 negative vs. 75 positive, 21 negative in IRI's 
September 2008 poll) has dropped after losing his post war 
bounce and as a result of the global economic crisis, which 
according to the pollster has negatively affected all leaders 
across the region.  Nonetheless, his positive rating means in 
spite of the war and crisis, he remains a relatively popular 
figure.  The only political figures who garner higher 
favorable ratings than the president are: Ombudsman Sozar 
Subari (67 percent), Christian Democrat parliamentary leader 
Giorgi Targamadze (67 percent) businessman Bidzina 
Ivanishvili (62 percent) and Refugee Minister Koba Subeliani 
(60 percent).  If presidential elections were held tomorrow, 
Saakashvili would receive 34 percent of the vote, Targamadze 
QSaakashvili would receive 34 percent of the vote, Targamadze 
(11 percent), Alasania (8), former Defense Minister 
Okruashvili (6), Labor Party leader Natelashvili (6), 
Burjanadze (4), New Rights leader Gamkrelidze (2), former 
presidential candidate Gachechiladze (2), none (10), and 
don't know "DK" (16).  While down from September 2008 when he 
received 51 percent support in hypothetical presidential 
elections, only Targamadze (8 in 2008) and Alasania (not 
polled) have made up any ground; in fact, the pollster noted 
that Saakashvili's lost numbers have been more-or-less evenly 
distributed among his rivals, ensuring that no individual 
politician gained much ground.  When the President is 
evaluated on his performance during the financial crisis, 43 
percent ranked his performance as very or somewhat positive 
against 46 percent who ranked it as negative or somewhat 
negative.  Moreover, Saakashvili out-polls his presidential 
election numbers when voters are asked who is best to fix 
unemployment (37 percent).  The numbers do not indicate 
widespread public dissatisfaction with the president's 
handling of the economy.  (Embassy Comment:  The IRI pollster 
suggested that remittances have significantly decreased.  The 
decreased cash flow from abroad has been one, if not the most 
acute, source of financial distress among the most vulnerable 
populations.  This phenomena may help explain why Saakashvili 
is not shouldering a major por
tion of the blame for the 
 
TBILISI 00000522  002 OF 003 
 
 
economic slowdown as many Georgians view their current 
economic hardship as driven by forces outside Georgia rather 
than by UNM policies.  End Comment.). 
 
4.  (C)  Likewise, UNM would stand poised to win pre-term 
parliamentary elections gaining 31 percent support as a first 
choice and 4 percent as a second.  (Other results in 
descending order respectively showing first choice, second 
choice numbers.  CDM 13,10 - Labor (Natelashvili) 7,5 - New 
Rights/Republicans (Gamkrelidze/Usupashvili) 6,5 - Political 
Team of Alasania (Alasania polled separately from New 
Rights/Republicans at his request) 5,6 - Democratic Movement 
United Georgia (Nino Burjanadze) 3,4 - none 12,16 and no 
answer 15,30).  Compared with September 2008, UNM's ratings 
have dropped from 52 and 4, although no single opposition 
member has directly benefited from the drop in support. 
Nonetheless, the UNM remains the most trusted party to 
successfully solve Georgia's problems with 22 percent 
mentioning them first as they ranked their preferences and 23 
percent subsequently.  (CDM - 8 first, 12 subsequent, Labor - 
4,5, Alasania - 2,5, none 22 and DK 35).  In spite of some 
slippage, UNM remains the dominant party and perhaps more 
importantly, none of the non-parliamentary opposition calling 
for new elections have made significant gains since September 
2008. 
 
Non-Parliamentary Opposition - Still Spinning Their Wheels 
 
5.  (C)  As noted above, the IRI poll shows that no 
non-parliamentary opposition figure is widely considered to 
be a potential replacement for President Saakashvili.  Among 
the non-parliamentary opposition, Irakli Okruashvili has the 
highest favorability rating (50 percent positive, 34 percent 
negative, 5 have not heard the name, 10 DK); followed by 
David Gamkrelidze (48,38,6,8); David Usupashvili 
(46,35,8,11); Irakli Alasania (45,30,8,17); Levan 
Gachechiladze (39,45,7,13); Shalva Natelashvili (37,50,5,7); 
and Nino Burjanadze (36,55,2,9).  All the major 
non-parliamentary players have seen their favorability 
ratings drop since September 2008.  Alasania, Gamkrelidze, 
and Usupashvili all have net positive ratings which indicates 
their Alliance is the best situated of the non-parliamentary 
groups on this indicator though it may be too soon to draw 
any major conclusion about Alasania's number since he has 
only recently entered the political arena.  Nino Burjanadze's 
36 percent favorable rating (with a 55 percent unfavorable 
rating) is down from 63 percent favorable (33 percent 
unfavorable rating) in September of 2008, indicating her 
radical turn has not been well received.  (Embassy Comment: 
In general, the non-parliamentary opposition can muster a 
significant amount of support in the aggregate.  However, the 
support is thinly spread among a number of rival groups. 
Until and unless the non-parliamentary opposition can 
coalesce around one group or leader, post believes that their 
support amounts to much less than the sum of its parts.  End 
Comment.). 
 
Christian Democrats - Still Chugging Along 
 
6.  (C)  As noted, Giorgi Targamadze has the highest 
favorability rating among any politician, another signal that 
his moderate opposition message resonated broadly with the 
public.  CDM MP, Magda Anikashvili (50,26,12,12) is the 
fourth most popular party politician in Georgia behind 
Targamadze and Saakashvili.  Often criticized as a UNM puppet 
party by other radical opposition members, the CDM is second 
only to Labor when asked which parties do the Georgian public 
consider in opposition (Labor - 24 first mentioned, 30 all 
Qconsider in opposition (Labor - 24 first mentioned, 30 all 
mentioned; CDM - 16,21; New Rights - 7,12; Alasania 5,7). 
Targamadze would finish second (to Saakashvili, who is 
term-limited and can not run again) in a presidential 
election if held today and the CDM would be the second 
largest vote-winner in a parliamentary election.  Targamadze 
is also listed second as the person perceived most able to 
fix unemployment (9 percent) and territorial integrity (8 
percent - tied with Alasania).  Despite CDM's short history, 
it appears to be gaining the confidence of Georgia's 
electorate. 
 
Economy is the Issue - Mood is Negative - Territorial 
Integrity Still Rates High 
 
7.  (C)  Currently only 27 percent of Georgians think the 
country is moving in the right direction versus 59 percent 
who think things are moving in the wrong direction (47 right, 
42 wrong in September 2008 poll).  The main reason for the 
negative swing is the economy, which 71 percent of Georgians 
say has gotten worse in the last 3 months.  Georgians 
overwhelmingly say (62 percent) that their economic situation 
has worsened in this time frame, with 33 percent saying it 
has stayed the same.  Respondents indicate that unemployment 
is the most important issue Georgia is facing (27 percent 
 
TBILISI 00000522  003 OF 003 
 
 
first mention, 52 percent all mentions), followed by 
territorial integrity (19,35); the economic situation 
(17,37); threat of war (9,15); and Georgian - Russian 
relations (7,12).  The polling shows a shift from September 
2008 when territorial integrity; threat of war; unemployment; 
Georgian - Russian relations; and the economic situation were 
the top five concerns in that order.  Nevertheless, when 
asked what should be the GOG's main priority, restoring 
territorial integrity is the first choice (59 percent - 28 
percent second) with creating jobs second (29 percent - 53 
percent second).  (Embassy Comment:  The overall polling data 
corresponds to Post's anecdotal sense that public opinion has 
become more and more focused on economic issues rather than 
foreign policy, with domestic democratic concerns low on the 
average Georgian's priority list.  However, when asked 
directly to name Georgia's most pressing concern, and 
provided with a list of potential issues, territorial 
integrity is still the most mentioned.   End Note.). 
 
Who Wants Protests - It Appears Not Many 
 
8.  (C)  The respondents showed a general ambivalence towards 
protests.  Only 48 percent believe that demonstrations are an 
acceptable form of protest with 40 percent who do not.  This 
represents a drop from the September 2008 poll (52 for - 42 
against).  A majority of Georgians (52 percent vs 34 percent) 
support the collection of signatres for a petition or a 
letter as an acceptable form of social protests.  In response 
to the question, "(d)o you accept the possibility of internal 
political confrontation in the current situation or does 
everything need to be done to keep internal political 
stability?"; 86 percent said politicians need to do 
everything to keep internal political stability with 8 
percent who would accept political confrontation.  The data 
seems to suggest that non-parliamentary calls for protests do 
not enjoy widespread public support other than among the 
supporter
s they already have. 
 
The War - USA - NATO - Charter Support 
 
9.  (C)  The poll suggests that the Georgian public may be 
beginning to rethink the August conflict (14 percent say 
Georgia started the war, 63 percent say Georgia reacted to 
Russian aggression, 23 percent DK/NA versus 7, 84, and 9 in 
September 2008.)  (Embassy Note:  Saakashvili is still viewed 
by 33 percent as the person who can best lead Georgia against 
Russian aggression; Alasania received 10 percent; Targamadze 
received 8; Okruashvili and Natelashvili received 5, 
Burjanadze received 4 with 30 percent saying none or don't 
know.  End Note).  Currently, 89 percent of Georgians 
evaluate relations with the U.S. as good but only 52 percent 
call the U.S. a reliable friend (97 percent said relations 
were good, and 70 called U.S. a reliable friend in the 
September 2008 poll).  Additionally, support for entry into 
NATO has dropped from 87 percent for, 8 percent against in 
September 2008 to 72 for, and 17 against in the current poll. 
 As the August conflict grows more distant, Georgian opinions 
vis-a-vis the U.S. and NATO seem to be weakening somewhat (A 
February 2007 IRI poll had 94 percent evaluate relations as 
good and support for NATO was at 91 percent while the April 
2006 IRI poll had the numbers at 93 percent and 74 percent 
respectively).  Finally of the 40 percent who had heard of 
the U.S.- Georgia charter, 77 percent supported it while only 
7 percent opposed. 
TEFFT

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