Georgia’s Population Size: Neighbors take a Guess

Georgia’s Population Size: Neighbors take a Guess

image_preview.jpgThe FINANCIAL -- In this column, we discuss a key  issue that is  vital to any country in the world – population size.

georgia.jpgThe FINANCIAL -- In this column, we discuss a key  issue that is  vital to any country in the world – population size.

 

One the most tried and true tools for accurately measuring population size, is the census. Mentioned as far back as the Bible, censuses were implemented in empires from ancient Egypt to China, with Georgia no exeception. If we focus just on the Soviet experience, 6 censuses were conducted (in 1926, 1939, 1959, 1970, 1979 and 1989). Actually there was one more, administered in 1937, but it was scrapped after revealing results that did not seem to fit in with the official reality propagated by the country’s Marxist regime. The population was a staggering 8-10 million smaller than previously declared. Also, on the behest of Stalin, a question about religion was added that had devastating answers - 50% of the Soviet Union’s population in large cities and 70% of population in rural areas admitted to believing in God. Such a politically unacceptable outcome resulted in the entire top management of the census being executed and lower level managers sent to the Gulags before a more “appropriate” census was held in 1939.

The most recent census in Georgia was conducted in 2002 but from the very beginning it was clear that the data was going to be of very poor and of questionable quality. Immediately after the fieldwork was completed, GORBI asked a representative sample of the adult population if they had been visited by representatives of Census Department (officially known as the National Statistics Office of Georgia). Around 17% could not recall such a visit! While there is always the reality that some respondents might not remember such visits, the figure was still unacceptably high. I shared this information to my contacts at the Census Department and they all seemed unamused. However, this is a local issue and until the next census is conducted, Georgians will officially remain numbered as 4.4 million. Hopefully the upcoming census – planned for 2015 - will shed some light on the real figures so we can learn how many citizens are actually living in this country.

Another interesting point worth discussing is the major gap between existing census data and voter’s lists. Total figures of adult population from these two official sources differ by as much as 8% or more. As a result, since the 1989 census, and despite numerous government efforts over the years to ascertain the number of eligible voters, both the true size of voters and the number of inhabitants in Georgia remain heavily disputed. This also has serious implications when it comes to weighting of survey data to adjust demographic variables to census statistics. We pollsters have no option but to use official data for these purposes and the irony is that the survey data in many respects is more accurate (depending on sampling procedures and sample size) compared to what the official data states. Fortunately, sampling frames for surveys are based on probability theory and like gravity, it never ceases to fail in every single country regardless of the nature of their political system. GORBI was the only organization to have correctly predicted the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections, including the placement and percentages of all candidates who gained more than 1% of votes (we disappointed some experts who expected a second round). Of course this was not just us getting lucky; there were two reasons for this: elections were competitive and, rating wise, the top three candidates were in three different weight categories.

In most instances, when people asked to estimate anything that is already known and is well documented, pollsters later assess the public’s knowledge and draw conclusions if/why inconsistencies occurred. This is not true for our case and I can’t tell exactly how close the answers compare to the true size of the Georgian population. Unfortunately however, we do not exceed the oft cited 5 million mark, nothing to say about the almost 11 million mentioned by Ukrainians. It is likely that only in 2015 when the new census data is available, will we most be closer to the average Georgian estimates of 3.71 million, compared to the 4.62 million that Azerbaijanis guessed are living in the country.

Chart 1: Question asked to respondents: Can you give me your best guess - how many people, in millions, live in Georgia right now?

 

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As a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients, since 2003, GORBI is the only Georgian member of the Gallup International research network to have over two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. All 5 surveys were conducted on a national representative sample of 1,000 respondents in January 2014; data retains a 3% margin of error, with confidence at 95%. This data was provided exclusively to the Financial. Please do not visit our site (www.gorbi.com); it is under construction!