Close, yet far: What does the NDI poll tell us about ethnic minorities?

Sopho Omanadze is Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Officer in USAID Unity Through Diversity program

On February 2, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) published its periodic poll, fielded by CRRC, a pollster. Much of the discussion focused on its findings related to Georgia’s foreign policy orientation and the rate of confidence in institutions and political parties. But the data is also interesting for unpacking the attitudes of the ethnic minority populations, gauging similarities and differences in their outlook towards national issues.

CRRC reports a nationally representative sample of 2,519 completed interviews with 29% response rate. The average margin of error stands at +/ 1.6. Fieldwork was done in December 2022. The national sample excluded the occupied territories and included oversampled areas of the capital, large urban, small urban, rural, and minority settlements. The minority stratum consists of settlements, where ethnic minorities (mostly Armenians & Azerbaijani) compose at least 40% of the voters in the given settlement. Settlements within this stratum are dispersed throughout Kvemo Kartli, Samtskhe Javakheti & Kakheti.

Minorities – do they stand out?

It is immediately apparent when reviewing the data from December 2022 that the minority respondents systematically give higher shares of responses ‘Do not know’ or ‘Refuse to Answer’. The minority respondents seem undecided or reluctant to share their attitudes regarding many issues. This is true especially when minorities are asked about state policies, political parties, or attitudes towards Russia and EU integration. 

This reluctance or indifference is likely associated with the low engagement and participation of ethnic minorities in the country’s civic, political, and social life, which has been a challenging aspect of the development of democracy in Georgia.

The Soviet ethnolinguistic policies could be named as one of the primary reasons people could not affiliate themselves with a united civic nation-state. Overall, the perceptions of ethnic minority groups do not drastically differ from those of majorities, as they face the same economic and social hardships and challenges; however, higher shares of ‘no-opinions’ may also indicate a low sense of belonging, which is an essential hallmark of social participation.

Minorities may have formed smaller isolated communities united by language, territory, culture, and religion; however, they do not strive to be a part of a larger community, and a larger community also offers limited entry points for their integration.

A deeper investigation into the attitudes of those who respond ‘Don’t know’ and ‘refuse to answer’ might shed light on their reasoning: are these responses out of fear of sharing their views, out of the feeling that sharing won’t lead to changes and better policies, out of lack of belonging or simply lack of information and presence of disinformation. 

NDI polls give a wonderful opportunity to have a closer view of the ethnic minorities’ perceptions. True, its sampling offers a limited possibility for comparing the results from settlement to settlement and between municipalities. But some general observations can still be made.  

So what do Georgia’s minorities say?

…they report feeling safe

In general, the share of people who say Georgia is going in the right direction has grown from 23 to 27% since the last poll in August, and there is a slight increase of people holding such opinion among ethnic minorities too. 35% of the polled ethnic minority representatives believe that the country is heading in the right direction, while several months ago, only 28% thought so. Ethnic minorities also stand out from other analysis groups; when asked about feeling safe living in Georgia, Tbilisi residents and opposition supporters feel the least safe in Georgia, while ethnic minorities, Georgian Dream supporters, and men feel the safest.

they fear unemployment and joblessness

Negative assessment of the Georgian economy dropped significantly among minority settlements – if in August 2022, 43% believed that the Georgian economy was in bad shape, while in the December poll, this fell to 29%.

People were asked how secure or insecure living in Georgia felt – 34% felt insecure. Among the top reasons for feeling insecure (out of 34% in total), minorities mostly fear unemployment and lack of jobs (73%); this is the highest share compared to other analysis groups, like urban/rural settlements and capital.

Although crime is often a solid reason behind the insecurity for 33% (nationwide), ethnic minorities seem less alarmed by this problem (7%). The rising prices/ inflation tops the priority list of national issues nationwide (39%), followed by jobs (38%), poverty (30%), territorial integrity (25%), and pensions (24%). Again, among the national issues faced by themselves or their families, jobs are essential for 56% of ethnic minorities. In comparison, inflation and pensions concern 30% of minority settlements, and 1% believe territorial integrity is a national issue.

In general, up to 20% of the population referred to themselves as unemployed; out of this 20%, most people in minority settlements say they can’t find any job, perhaps hinting at structural problems of access.

Tbilisi residents, younger demographics, people with higher education, and people with jobs are more likely to say they need more than GEL 3,000 (approximately USD 1,200) monthly income to live comfortably. Expectations of the minorities are more modest: only 11% of ethnic minorities feel they would need as much, while 32% feel that less than GEL 1,000 (USD 380) a month would suffice to live comfortably. It seems, the minorities have adjusted their expectation to their already low purchasing power.

One in five Georgians is thinking about emigrating in the next 12 months (20%); in minority settlements, 26% consider it likely to go abroad in the next 12 months. This needs to be contrasted with the fact the qualitative data suggests that in some minority areas, many breadwinners are already abroad; therefore, those who stay and respond to the survey may not be able, or motivated, to leave.

…have qualms about foreign affairs, but less so?

Nationwide, the approval of the goal of joining NATO and the EU is high (73% and 81%, respectively). But the minority communities are most skeptical – 32% support NATO and 59% the EU membership for Georgia, respectively. It is very important to notice, though, that the lower support rates are often at the expense of a high rate of ‘don’t know’ answers.

The attitude towards NATO membership has changed notably over the years. Undecided ethnic minorities constitute 47%, and 21% disapprove of the goal of joining NATO. Looking back, the share of undecided minorities seems to be within the same range except for the current poll, where the share of those who ‘do not know’ increased.

The skepticism towards NATO was historically driven by the ethnic Armenian community and reflected overall geopolitical choices in the region, but seems to have been affected by recent developments.

The share of those who actively disapprove has decreased over the years. They do not seem to have switched sides but have migrated from disapproval to ‘don’t knowers’.

Approval rates of joining NATO among minorities

In the case of EU membership, only 8% disapprove, and 33% are undecided. There has been a rise from August 2022 in supporting the goal of joining the EU among ethnic minorities; supporters have increased from 38% to 59% during the last several months. Although looking through the years, the ‘approver’s’ share has only increased at the expense of a decrease in ‘disapprovers’’ share; the undecided minorities still represent up to 33% of the minorities. 

Approval of joining the EU among minorities

39% believe that the Government is doing everything in its power to ensure EU membership, while 38% are undecided.

they appreciate the President

This poll has shown an increase in Government job approval overall; 61% of ethnic minorities rate the current Government’s performance as good, compared to 53% who shared the same opinion in August 2022.

The prime minister’s job approval rate is somewhat similar to the general population (31% and 30%, respectively). In contrast, slightly higher shares of minorities seem to approve of President’s (23% vs. 14% nationwide) and Parliament’s (19%/12%) jobs. Again, the share of undecided minorities is again highest compared to other analysis groups.

they struggle to find their place in political life

Since August 2022, the share of ethnic minorities who believe that at least one political party in Georgia more or less represents their interests dropped from 40 to 22, while 27% do not have an opinion on that (24% do not have an answer, and 3% refuse to answer). Also, 74% of ethnic minorities either refuse to answer or do not know whether any political party is closest to them.

they diverge with the rest on war and Russia

When asked about the Ukrainian War, ethnic minorities blame Russia (31%), Putin (9%), and the U.S. (23%). The rate of blaming the U.S. is highest here compared to the nationwide 14%. One could speculate that the impact of Russian-language broadcast media is felt most clearly in this response.

38% of the surveyed minority representatives approve of the state policies towards Russian citizens (compared to 29% nationwide and 33% rural). The biggest divergence is on the issue of visas: 69% nationwide and an even higher share – 72% of the rural population of Georgia think that the current policy should be reversed and Russians should be required to ask for visas to enter Georgia. Only 32% of the minorities think so, 37% say no, and an additional 31% – an unusually high share – respond “don’t know.”

80% of Georgian citizens have a predominantly unfavorable attitude toward the government of Russia, while the minority settlements have the most favorable attitude. 44% favor the Russian Government, and 58% favor the people of Russia. In this latter metric, the minority converges with the nationwide opinion – 56% nationwide are favorable to Russian people (as opposed to the government). Again, the share of those who do not express an opinion on the topic is higher than other analysis groups.

USAID Unity Through Diversity program is a 5-year project focused on national integration, which is being implemented by the United Nations Association of Georgia (UNAG), which also runs This article does not reflect the position of the Unity for Diversity project, but draws on learning and knowledge generated by its experts.


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