Georgian citizens feel less optimistic about world leaders compared to 2014. Over the last four years, favorability ratings for world leaders such as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jingping have all dropped universally.
Nevertheless, their relative ranking compared to each other remains the same. In this column I present data on Georgian attitudes towards various country leaders (in Chart 1). The data is based on GORBI’s nationwide surveys conducted in September 2018 among 1,500 respondents across the country except the occupied territories.
Chart 1. Positive & negative attitudes towards key people and lack of awareness (%)
Source: GORBI nationwide survey of 1,500 respondents, September 2018.
Ever since the early 1990s when GORBI first started conducting public opinion surveys in Georgia, American presidents have been winning Georgians’ hearts. Regardless of party affiliation, their favorability ratings have always topped the list. The trend continues in 2018 and U.S. President Donald Trump enjoys higher favorability ratings in Georgia (56%) than in his own country where it stands at around 39% (Gallup, 2018). Even so, Trump enjoys comparatively less popularity among Georgians compared to his predecessor Barack Obama (64% favorable, GORBI 2014).
The U.S. President is not the only one whose favorability ratings have fallen compared to his predecessor. It is common for politicians to have higher favorability ratings in the beginning of their political careers, which usually diminishes as the time goes on. The majority of the world leaders demonstrated on Chart 1 have been in power for quite some time, and the downward trend in their favorability is depicted by the attitudes of Georgians. For example, even though Ilham Aliyev still enjoys comparatively high favorability among Georgian citizens, with 49% saying that they have favorable or somewhat favorable attitudes towards him, his ratings have nevertheless fallen compared to 2014, when 56% expressed favorable attitudes towards the President of Azerbaijan. Petro Poroshenko’s ratings have fallen as well, with 38% of Georgian citizens favoring the Ukrainian President, compared to 48% favoring him in 2014. Even the ratings of President of Iran Hassan Rouhani have fallen, with only 13% saying they have favorable or somewhat favorable attitudes towards him, compared to 26% favorability he enjoyed in 2014, Possibly because he was elected in 2013 and dove right into the Iran nuclear deal and people heard about him on the news. Part of the explanation for Rouhani’s falling rating could be tremendous influx of Iranian tourists to Georgia in the last couple of years. If one walks around in Tbilisi, especially on Marjanishvili Ave for example, he/she will find as many if not more Iranians than Georgians, though one might confuse them with the high number other Middle Easterners and Turks there. On the contrary, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has quite a stable favorability rating among Georgians, with 48% saying they have positive attitudes towards him. This is a decline of only 1% from 2014. Part of the reason for this could be that Lukashenko has visited Georgia a few times and expressed his support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. During his most recent visit in 2018 he said, “I know that warm and decent people will greet me here, like it is in Belarus. I feel here like I am at home” (Georgia Today). And his positive attitude mirrors the favorability ratings of Georgians towards Lukashenko.
Chart 2. Mr. Putin’s rating down for the first time since 2009
Source: Gallup International/GORBI nationwide surveys
It is interesting that since the war with Russian in 2008, President Putin’s ratings have seen an upward trend in favorability among Georgians. This changed in 2018 when his ratings began to trend downwards. There can be both local and international reasons for this: first, in 2018 there were a number of cases in which Russian troops kidnapped Georgians less than 20 miles from Tbilisi’s surrounding villages. One incident was particularly famous in which Russian troops, backing local separatists, kidnapped and killed Georgian citizen Archil Tatunashvili and then even failed to hand over his dead body on time. This case was widely publicized in traditional and social media. In addition, a social media campaign has been very active in 2018, with many Facebook users putting “I am from Georgia, and 20% of my country is occupied by Russia” as their profile photos. A few months ago, at Russia’s and possibly Mr. Putin’s personal request, President of Syria, Bashar Al Assad, recognized the independence of Abkhazia, signed diplomatic contracts and met with de-facto President of Abkhazia Khajimba. This action was perceived as yet another Russian step towards solidifying Moscow’s control and occupation of the Georgian region. As a result, the memories and consequences of the 2008 war were awakened among the Georgian population, which should be one of the major factors that Putin’s favorability ratings are dropping among the Georgian population. Another reason for Putin’s falling rating among the Georgian population could be his international image. Economic sanctions from the U.S and its allies are increasing against Russia despite Mr. Putin’s efforts to improve relations with the U.S.
To summarize, even though the U.S president’s ratings have plummeted, with Trump being less popular than Obama, the Georgian population still finds him as the most favorable world leader, with 57% showing positive attitudes towards him. This is in sharp contrast with Mr. Putin, who has the lowest favorability ratings among Georgian citizens, with 75% saying that they have unfavorable or very unfavorable attitudes toward the Russian president, again demonstrating their pro-American attitudes.
Georgia has hosted six of the world leaders listed above, including Mr. Trump (at that time he came to Georgia for business). Though over the last few years, we have developed a sound relationship with the People’s Republic of China which is helping us in many ways and not only to diversify our wine export markets. Half of respondents in the survey have never even heard of Mr. Xi, the leader of the world’s second largest economy (and first in terms of purchasing power parity). Our relationship with Iran has also approached unseen heights, but like the Chinese leader, around half of Georgians are unaware of Mr. Rouhani. There are two proven ways to increase this awareness: respective embassies should do more to improve communication with the public and these presidents should visit Georgia. I would prefer the latter and I wish I had the power to invite both to Georgia. As for Mr. Putin, I do not think he or members of his clan will be welcome in Georgia anytime soon and he has only himself to blame.
Note: I would like to extend special appreciation to Ani Lortkipanidze who assisted with the analysis and charts featured in this article
GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)