Politicians, Youngsters don’t Hear You!

As the elections approach, public opinion polls slowly crawl into the viewfinder of the media and onto the mental maps of the politicians. And while the contenders are comparing each others’ [ego] ratings, lots of sociological findings are ignored. Yet, sociologically speaking we know very little of the Georgian society. The polling is irregular and even in those polls which take place regularly, the individual legs are often too far apart to draw valid conclusions. We tried to glimpse some clues into the mindset and behavior of a Georgian voter through our experimental research.

Author: Khatuna Nachkebia has been doing political consulting and sociological research for 30 years. She has founded the Applied Research Company (ARC) in 2006.

The joint team of and ARC tried to learn more about the people’s disposition on the eve of the elections in a way that matched our limited resources. Instead of rating the politicians, we asked the respondents what kind of country they considered ideal to live in, and then to superimpose that image on Georgia – through various historical periods, as well as today. Then we overlayed that information onto other pertinent variables, such as their voting behavior and their sources of information.

Much of what you read here are the clues gleaned from limited quantitative study but mostly from our qualitative research. We, therefore, base the deductions on our experience and hunch. We won’t bore you with the methodology [1], but if you like to know more, please write to us and we will be happy to respond.

So much for the introduction, now onto the interesting things that we’ve learned.

Where are you Gen Z & Y voters?

Many politicians try to target first-time voters or to bring them out for a vote. Are they reaching their eyes and ears? Here are some clues.

It turns out that 18-25-year-olds do not watch regular television programming – they tune into the TV news rarely or not at all. So that much-coveted TV airtime is wasted on them.  

These youths get their information from the internet, namely from Instagram and Facebook profiles of their friends. Among those, political activists are few and far between. Unless one of their friends is politically engaged, young people won’t get political news on their social media stream either. When they begin their morning by scrolling down on their phones and gadgets, the politicians are largely absent from the picture they see.

Interestingly, the information about what is happening in the country is filtering through their parents and – often – grandparents. A significant number of the young people we spoke to say the politics “does not concern them yet”. This was irrespective of whether they were habitual voters or absentees.

Now, let’s turn to how they understand democracy and add some numbers into the mix:

  • Nine out of ten youths we’ve surveyed say the peaceful political contest is not a Georgian tradition. Yet, six out of ten believe that such a contest is one of the core characteristics of democracy;
  • Only half of the surveyed say that protecting the weak, freedom of expression, and tolerance are Georgian values, yet the absolute majority associates these notions with a democratic rule;
  • Seven out of ten youths think that Georgia today is weak and poor, with apparent authoritarian tendencies.

What is the potential impact of these beliefs? There are 344 455 citizens aged 18 to 25, according to the census. This represents 9.3% of the total population and 12.1% of the potential voters. Even if half of those show up to vote, they can play an important role – especially with the new election rules that have essentially abolished the threshold for entering into the parliament. Even more importantly, the majority of parties that are now running are polling well below that figure.

They might want to sit up and take notice, because the people we surveyed and spoke with say that:

  • …nobody represents them in the parliament;
  • …elections are “like re-installing an app” – things must work faster and better afterward;
  • …elections must lead to change;
  • …the political information they receive on gadgets and on social media is too little, too slow and too boring;
  • …the country they want to live in should give them the education that they can use to get a good job anywhere;
  • …the government works well if they can benefit from the latest international advances from Georgia and in Georgia.

That’s what we saw. Politicians, you need to talk to the youth, and need to learn to speak their language first!

[1] The research was conducted using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative study was held online, using SurveyMonkey platform with 589 persons responding. The qualitative study involved 6 focus group meetings.

This research was funded by the USAID in frames of the East-West Management Institute’s project Advancing CSO Capacitities and Engaging Society for Sustainability (EWMI-ACCESS). Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not imply an endorsement from either USAID or EWMI-ACCESS.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian)


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