As Georgia prepares to go to the polls on Saturday, 8 October, questions have again arisen about the reliability of opinion polls, and the possible manipulation of opinion and exit polls by different political forces.
The problem is not new. Opinion polls ahead of the 2012 parliamentary elections proved not only to be unreliable, but outright misleading.
Opinion polls by the American National Democratic Institute ahead of the elections held on 1 October 2012 hugely underestimated the support for the Georgian Dream coalition. In its report dated 7 September 2012 NDI showed Georgian Dream support at 12% (based on respondents likely to vote) against the projected support for the United National Movement at 37% - this according to a poll conducted shortly before the elections. In the election itself the Georgian Dream coalition got 54.97% whilst the UNM got 40.34%. Needless to say the difference between the poll and the actual election result goes far beyond any conceivable margin of error.
The problem persists. Opinion polls published in recent days give completely different pictures.
On 1 October, the pro opposition TV station Rustavi 2 reported on its website:
"According to the GFK conducted research, the National Movement is ahead of Georgian Dream in ratings. When asked which party they would vote for, if they were to take part in the parliamentary elections, the results were as follows - the United National Movement -26%; Then comes the Georgian Dream 25.4%. Just one week before the election, commissioned by Rustavi2 the GFK company conducted public opinion research and published results of the third pre-election poll."
At almost the same time Imedi TV, a pro Georgian Dream station gave a completely different picture. As reported by agenda.ge on 30 September:
"The poll, commissioned by Imedi TV and conducted by the American research firm JPM revealed the current ruling party would win the elections. The Imedi TV poll indicated the current ruling party had the most support from voters.
The survey asked people who they will vote for. The results showed: Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia - 32.7 %; United National Movement - 12.8%"
Commonspace.eu political editor said in a comment that "the unreliability of the opinion polls in the past, and the continued exaggerated discrepancies ahead of next Saturday's vote should make political observers very wary on basing their assessments on these polls. As could be seen in recent polls in Britain (ahead of both the General elections and the Brexit referendum), opinion polls are imprecise even in the most sophisticated democracies. In a situation like Georgia they must, at best, be taken with a pinch of salt. What will matter will be the result of the election that will be released by the Central Elections Commission in the early hours of Sunday morning. The Georgian people need to be reassured that it is their vote that matters, not what the opinion polls say".
photo: Screenshot from a report on opinion poll findings on one of Georgia's tv stations