A recent opinion poll shows Georgia's support for President Mikheil Saakashvili at an all-time low, and for Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili at a staggering high, but the question is -- how long will the love for Ivanishvili last?
The ratings, based on fieldwork done between November 14 and 25, differ dramatically from the results of the October 1 parliamentary elections, in which 54.97 percent of voters gave the nod to Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream and 40.34 percent to Saakashvili's UNM.
That means that support for Ivanishvili jumped by a whopping 25 percent in just over a month after the vote. The hike occurred before the Ivanishvili-led cabinet could offer much in terms of new policies; hence, the reason for the jump is not entirely clear.
One analyst notes that the atmosphere of intimidation recorded by international observers during the campaign period may have played a role. “It is quite possible that support for the United National Movement was mile-wide, but inch-deep to start with,” said George Welton, a Tbilisi-based independent analyst.
Georgians’ changing news diet could also be a factor, said Welton, who is married to Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Tamar Karosanidze.
Ivanishvili and his Dream are getting wider and more comprehensive coverage in national TV networks, while before nearly all such outlets were favorable to President Saakashvili. During the election campaign the president’s UNM received weak support in urban centers, where a more pluralistic local media environment tends to exist.
And, finally, many Georgians could simply be choosing to stick with the top dog.
“Because there is no experience of divided government in Georgian history, it is possible, if not likely, that the allegiances change according to whichever party is perceived to be in charge,” said one Western observer. Georgians overwhelmingly voted for Mikheil Saakashvili as president in 2004, for instance, once it was clear that he was the main power player to come out of the Rose Revolution.
The Caucasus Research Resource Centers, which did the poll's fieldwork, seem to agree with this point of view. “Here we always have a large number of voters who always support the winners or the top man in charge,” said CRRC Georgia Director Koba Turmanidze.
“There is no strong relationship between public loyalties and the general ideologies and policies of political parties . . .Rather, public views mainly depend on promises, whether actual or perceived , of the political leaders.”
The Georgian Dream is still basking in popular love, while the UNM is grumpily talking about the allegedly unrealistic promises of their rivals.
But if the polls should have taught anything to Georgian officials, it is to be humble. After all, you never know for sure what Georgians really are thinking about the powers-that-be.
“The opinions are mercurial and, depending on the delivery on the campaign promises and availability of a political alternative, attitudes can change very quickly,” said Turmanidze.