Georgia’s euphoria over its new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, appears to be losing steam a bit, but Ivanishvili's team remains heads and shoulders above all other political alternatives ahead of October's presidential election, an opinion poll commissioned by the National Democratic Institute suggests.
Georgia’s fervor for Ivanishvili has been slowly scaling back from over 80 percent of respondents in November, just after he entered office, to 75 percent in March, and, finally, to 69 percent in June, according to National Democratic Institute (NDI) surveys.
Approval of the job he is doing, separate from evaluations of the billionaire prime-minister as a personality, is slightly lower, at 55 percent of the 2,388 respondents surveyed.
Juxtaposing Ivanishvili’s approval ratings with Georgians’ current concerns could provide hints about the dynamic.
Providing jobs and overcoming poverty are the biggest concerns, the areas where respondents think the government did the least impressive job of living up to its promise, whether perceived or real. Earlier, many Georgians (sometimes it seemed like almost every Tbilisi cab driver) had an expectation that Ivanishvili’s vast fortune would somehow trickle into their pockets or that the prime minister's past entrepreneurial flair would translate into more jobs. But with the economic miracle still waiting to happen, Georgians with the shortest tempers and highest expectations could be losing their patience.
Growing prices and criminality levels come next on the list of Georgian concerns and perceived government inability to tackle these issues could also have corroded Ivanishvili’s political standing. His performance was rated as the poorest on these four counts, while it got the highest numbers for dealing with the Russian problem and healthcare.
But the good news for Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition is that most Georgians don’t see any other political force whom they would trust with fixing such issues. Approval for President Mikheil Saakashvili and his minority United National Movement (UNM) remains low.
That said, a fair number of Georgians (48 percent) do seem to like the UNM's mild-mannered parliamentary faction leader Davit Bakradze, who is one of the party's prospective candidates for president. Surveyed Georgians seem to prefer him slightly to the Georgian Dream candidate, Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili.
Though if the election were tomorrow, Margvelashvili's closest rival would be "don't know" (28 percent vs. 26 percent). Only 10 percent would go with a UNM candidate.
While the new president is going to have just a shell of Saakashvili's constitutional powers, these figures suggest that chances for an interesting race still exist.