Opinion polling is not an exact science, a more than a few embarrassed survey research polling companies in various countries have found out the hard way. But there is a difference between honest mistakes, based on sampling errors, and willful manipulation, based on completely ignoring the sample and research ethics.
It is like Mark Twain is quoted, “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” – Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review.
Whenever the National Democratic Institute, NDI, office in Georgia presents its latest poll you know the truth is being twisted for political reasons. It has a long history of doing this: for example, prior to the voting out of the Saakashvili government in 2012 it repeatedly insisted he would retain power with a large majority. One might also reasonably ask why it never says a word about the first freely elected government of Georgia being removed in a coup conducted by criminal gangs, if it is there to further democracy.
NRI and NDI same thing
Its counterpart, the National Republican Institute (NRI) office, is no better. It serves more as a training ground for future Saakashvili gang operatives, the sort who went round with “Vote McCain” bumper stickers on their cars during the 2008 US presidential election when neither they nor the vast majority of Georgians could vote for him. There too were some politicians with a McCain 1 on their license plates and even a fund raising group set up to collect money for the US presidential election, something highly illegal under US law.
But the NDI has always had a particular characteristic. Rather than producing a series of ongoing snapshots of the electorate, as happens in most countries, it produces polls commissioned by outside parties, generally the US, at exactly the time they want to make a statement. In every case, these are commissioned precisely to subvert public opinion, to fly in the face of the impressions people are getting on the ground.
Rustavi2 TV, which is the mouthpiece of the former Saakashvili government and his United National Movement (UNM), has reported that according to a new NDI survey, the Georgian politician seen most positively by the public is the UNM’s David Bakradze. This is the man who used to be Speaker of the Georgian parliament, and went down with a mysterious kidney problem at exactly the same time as a short-lived Prime Minister, Grigol Mgaloblishvili, was “retired” due to the same condition, despite no previous history of it and long service in diplomatic roles before and since without apparently being affected by it.
Since Saakashvili’s downfall Bakradze has been puffed as the face of a moderate, non-criminal UNM, and in spite of being as much implicated in the UNM’s crimes as anyone by omission. Consequently, the NDI maintains he has a net positive performance rating of 19 percentage points, and his performance is rated positively by 34% of respondents, with 15% of the opposite view and 35% rating his performance as “average.”
The main complaint on the streets in Georgia today is that the present government was elected on a promise to put all the UNM crooks, including Bakradze, in jail but in most cases hasn’t done it. This hardly suggests that Bakradze has a positive rating with the public. So the NDI has tried to back this up by claiming that the man who got rid of the UNM, former Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili “is the most negatively assessed politician.”
Of course the methods used to obtain these figures are never fully described. We are just supposed to trust the experts. But when we know from long experience why these polls appear when they do and say what they do, that is the one thing nobody is prepared to do.
Georgia and the region are drifting into the red zone, based on recent intelligence provided by Veterans Today, an American-based military-intelligence journal. Apparently some dark forces are working in the shadows to overthrow the present, legally elected, Georgian government—exactly the sort of thing people expect the likes of NDI to protect them from.
As has been widely reported, the Saakashvili gang was planning to stage a coup last year but this was foiled by intelligence leaks. Therefore his old friends have reverted to the old Georgian, or rather US-dictated, tradition of changing governments by manipulation of the media and ballot box stuffing. As Jeffrey Silverman, the Georgia Bureau Chief for Veterans Today who has seen this happen for 25 years, has said in an interview with the Georgia media, “Firstly they will use the traditional mechanisms of fake NDI survey poll results, trying to show that the government has little support.”
Unfortunately Rustavi2 is not the only ready outlet for the NDI’s now-traditional garbage. Several staff at one of the main English-language newspapers here, the Georgian Journal, are directly funded by another organisation with a long history of being the opposite of its title: the National Endowment for Democracy, NED. In fact its Managing Editor, a certain Will Cathcart, is a spin doctor on the payroll of Saakashvili and the US government whose word gets bricks thrown at people.
Will Cathcart married a Georgian lady last year. His wedding guests were a stellar crowd: U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland, Georgia’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Archil Talakvadze, Director of the Palitra Media House Irakli Tevdorashvili, Georgian Journal Editor Nugzar Rukhadze and many other dignitaries. US Navy Admiral Shimp conducted the ceremony, and regards were sent by South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson and former First Lady of South Carolina Ann Edwards.
All the people named have been supported, one way or another, by the US Navy or NED. It was US Naval Intelligence which established the illegal bioweapons programme in Georgia, and it still controls it, though not officially since it was forced to admit its biolab existed. NED has a long history of sponsoring “NGOs” and “youth movements” all over the world, which then, strangely enough, became agents of regime change the US has long advocated, and propping up those regimes in the face of public protest.
It was the NED which provoked the Rose Revolution, using similar methods, to replace one discredited ruler with a fresh face who would do all the same things to a greater degree. The new Georgian consulate in the USA, established straight after this, was located in the same building as the NED, as were the child development agency HEAD START and NATIONAL Headwaters, both since identified as covers for CIA and British MI6 activities, including the development of the Penatorn and Raytheon super-software programmes.
NED has never made any secret of what its favoured “democratic development” of Georgia is. It is still conducting a crusade to bring back Saakashvili, or at least his team. As in previous instances, publishing dubious polls is the first stage of such a campaign.
NED also pays for the propagation of a smear campaign against Ivanishvili, who like deposed first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia has lost some of his enormous popularity but is still more popular than almost any Western leader.
Few in Georgia take this seriously, but as Ivanishvili still has more influence than any of the politicians elected in his wake it can be used by outside parties to justify an intervention, Prague 1968-style. As this campaign has little effect within the country, and is largely conducted in English, it is clear that this is the exact reason it is being done.
So what are you saying?
You would expect supporters of the present government to rubbish NDI polls. Irakli Kobakhidze, Executive Secretary of the Georgian Dream coalition, says that the coalition’s internal polling, which is conducted more regularly than the NDI polls, consistently puts it far ahead of the next party.
All we know of the methodology of these polls is that the latest had a sample of 3,500. In technical terms, they could be equally flawed. But we do know that the GD polling has consistently reflected actual results and the NDI polls have done the opposite. This was again evident in the last elections, in Garbadani, where the GD triumphed without difficulty despite the same claims, expressed differently, that the NDI is now making.
So any attempt to destabilise Georgia is more likely to succeed by creating an international storm which bypasses the Georgian reality. This tactic has been working well for a long time. Members of the UNM have been charged with a vast range of offences which only they had the means to commit, have undoubtedly been committed by somebody, and would never be acceptable in a Western country. But they are still walking around because the West, which ignored their crimes when they were in power, still will not countenance any attacks on them.
The only other Georgian issue the West is taking an interest in is the ownership of the aforementioned Rustavi2. The previous owners had the station seized from them illegally by the UNM when it was in power, and who went court to get it back. There have been plenty of illegal property seizures in Georgia, based on alleged non-payment of taxes and the like where only one side can present documents, as the UNM made a habit of these. Again the West said nothing, though many ministers enriched themselves in this way. But now such a seizure has been reversed, as the West spoke out against it, such is the power of an NED propaganda campaign.
The West is also creating for itself the means to present its takeover as an internal matter it just happens to support for the Georgian people’s good. Saakashvili and foreign intelligence services are currently training and equipping a private army to take control of Georgia. This is the so-called Georgian Legion, now fighting for Poroshenko in Ukraine, who was himself installed in exactly the same way. They also were prepared to get into the fight in Azerbaijan, so to balance the scales of killing between Armenian and Azerbaijan.
The major source of income for this force is weapons and oil transfers to terrorists in Syria and the Turkish Grey Wolves, an ultra nationalist group. However that mechanism is drying up since the Russians cut the supply of stolen oil. The mechanism by which the oil transfers, at least the dodgy documents, were made through Georgian ports is well-documented. It was established by the Saakashvili government and various local crime bosses when the UNM was in power, with US financial and logistical support. Those crime bosses include Megis Kardava, the man in whose controlled territory the US built its torture huts for opponents of Saakashvili, who is now protected by Turkish intelligence.
Unforking the tongues
Every country can point to instances where the opinion polls have got things badly wrong. The US is still haunted by the exit poll of the 1948 presidential election, which confidently predicted that Thomas Dewey had defeated Harry Truman, only to find Truman had won. It is largely because of that election that polls have got ever more sophisticated since, despite more recent errors, and US bodies like the NDI have had cutting edge, world beating methodologies put at their disposal to try and prevent similar errors happening again.
Are we to believe that the NDI does not know that its polls are so unreliable they should never be released? They are being commissioned and published to pull the wool over the English-speaking world’s eyes. The fact that this is happening right now, efforts to rig the election, with all the people mentioned here in place, should concern a lot more people than professional opinion pollsters and Georgian voters.
At least now, those in Georgia are beginning to speak openly about it, and not only NDI, as a long term observer, it is nice to hear it being stated publicly…
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.