On the eighth of October Georgians will vote for a new parliament, the first since 2012. Signs of the election campaign can be seen everywhere in the country, most conspicuously on the ubiquitous billboards that lining the thoroughfares in all the major cities. Georgia, however, is not the only country in the midst of an election season: one month after Georgians vote for a new parliament, Americans will be heading to the polls to elect a new President.
The American President has a significant amount of influence in the world thanks to the role he plays in directing American foreign policy. The new President, therefore, would have the ability to greatly reshape America’s relationship with Georgia, a relationship that we believe has been very beneficial to Georgia over the last two decades. Unfortunately, despite some exceptions, American politicians from both political parties have been spending much less time on the ground in Georgia since the 2008 war with Russia.
Although the outcome of American elections have an effect on policies and politics in countries all over the world, it goes without saying that only US citizens are allowed to vote. The rest of us simply live with the consequences (both good and bad). An interesting thought experiment would be to imagine how the citizens of other countries around the world might vote for the American presidency if given the chance. Luckily, we are able to do more than just guess. The Gallup International Association recently requested its member organizations, of which GORBI is the only Georgian member since 2003, to ask their respective publics about attitudes towards the American presidential elections. In total, the survey was conducted in over 40 countries on six continents covering 75% of the world’s population. This article uses this unique data set to show how both the world and the Georgian public see the upcoming US election.
We began by asking respondents about how much influence the US president has on their country: How much, in your view, is the impact of American election on your country, on issues such as economic progress, trade, peace etc. In other words how much is the impact of American President on what happens in your country?
Chart 1 shows results for both Georgia and the world on average. As can be seen, Georgians are much more likely than the world average to report being unsure about the impact of the US President on their country. Despite this however, as in the rest of the world, a clear majority of Georgian citizens believe the impact of the US president to be “high”.
Chart 2 shows the percentage of citizens reporting that they would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. In other words, the chart displays the gap between support between the two candidates. The question simply asked: If you were to vote in the American election for President, who would you vote for? Results are shown from a diverse range of countries including Georgia. What immediately jumps out is that the attitudes of Georgian citizens are fairly “normal”, at least when compared to the rest of the world: the gap between those supporting Clinton is about 31% in Georgia compared to the world average of 34%. The other interesting finding is the result from Russia indicating that Russians favour Trump over Clinton by 23 percentage points.
As we just saw, a majority of Georgians believe that US presidents have a big impact on the country and many of them would vote for Ms. Clinton if they had a chance to do so. Why is this the case?
We Georgians certainly know more about Ms. Clinton than Mr. Trump. Clinton’s name recognition has been high since she became the first lady in 1993. It became even higher during her tenure as Secretary of State. During this time, she traveled to Georgia twice (in 2010 and 2012). She also made numerous supporting statements during the 2008 war. As for Mr. Trump, until his recent engagement in American politics, the Georgian public’s only real knowledge about him was due to an attempt by a Georgian businessmen to purchase franchise rights and build a “Trump Tower”, a plan that was heavily advertised by then president Mr. Saakashvili. Despite the fanfare, the plan never materialized. Now, during the recent presidential campaign, most Georgians who read western news and use social media that covers the presidential campaign, know about Mr. Trump’s affinity for Mr. Putin and the Russian government. Readers of this column (and those at all knowledgeable about Georgia) will know how “well-disposed” the Georgian people are towards the Russian government.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Radio Free Europe or Voice of America, Georgians hear very little, if at all anything, about the US Presidential elections. The little that is said is generally of questionable quality with little accompanying analysis. This is unfortunate since the election could have major consequences for the country. "A Trump presidency might end up giving more emphasis to US-Russian relations than to US-Georgian relations. We have seen that Donald Trump has shown little concern for Russia's annexation of Crimea or support for the separatist regions in Ukraine. If he were to win the election, it could have serious implications for the region," said Dr. Anderson, a research analyst at GORBI.
Finally, regardless of the outcome of the elections, Georgia would greatly benefit from more frequent, high-level visits from key American leaders. Such visits help to remind Georgians that the west has not forgotten them and they serve to highlight the both the strength and the importance of the relationship between the two countries.
GORBI is a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients. Since 2003, GORBI remains an exclusive member of Gallup International research network for its two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. This data was provided exclusively to the Financial.