Giorgi Margvelashvili from Georgian Dream (GD); Davit Bakradze from the United National Movement (UNM); Giorgi Targamadze from Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM); Koba Davitashvili from People’s Party; Zurab Kharatishvili, nominated by the European Democrats of Georgia; Sergo Javakhidze from Movement for Fair Georgia; and Teimuraz Mzhavia, nominated by the Christian Democratic People’s Party - fall under this category. Overall, the Central Election Commission (CEC) registered 23 candidates for the October 27 presidential election; the largest number since 1990 when Georgia held its first presidential election.
Among the popular candidates not enjoying the status of “qualified” runners are Nino Burjanadze, former parliament speaker and leader of Democratic Movement-United Georgia party (DMUG); Shalva Natelashvili, leader of Labor Party; Akaki Asatiani, leader of the Traditionalists party; and Nestan Kirtadze, a former Labor Party member.
On September 23-26, the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI) released a survey conducted by the Caucasus Resource Research Centers (CRRC) from August 18 to September 3 through nationwide face-to-face interviews with 3,838 respondents. The survey shows a significant lead for the GD’s candidate Margvelashvili over the other runners with a ten-percentage point increase since June.
Responding to the question “whom would you like to see as the next president?,” 39 percent of likely voters named Margvelashvili, followed by the Bakradze with 18 percent. Notably, in a previous similar poll conducted in June, Bakradze gained 10 percent. 7 percent of the respondents chose Burjanadze as the preferred next president, whereas Targamadze and Natelashvili secured 3 percent each.
According to the polls, 16 percent of likely voters remain undecided, 6 percent refused to answer, while 4 percent rejected all candidates. Those who answered “don’t know,” “no candidate” or declined to answer together comprise 26 percent. Meanwhile, 31 percent of the respondents anticipate a second election round while exactly the same number of respondents disagree. However, in the event of a runoff, Margvelashvili secures a 25-point lead over the Bakradze and a 33-point lead over Burjanadze.
Conspicuously, the rating of the two major political parties has not changed significantly since June. 50 percent of the respondents dubbed the GD coalition as the “party closest” to them followed by UNM with 12 percent. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili maintains a 69 percent approval rating. Although 71 percent of the respondents disapprove of his decision to resign before the end of his term, 62 percent say that the PM’s intention will not affect their choice of presidential candidates.
Another recent survey conducted by the Washington-based research and strategic consulting firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR) during September 15-21 ultimately reiterates the tendencies depicted in the NDI polls. 43 percent of the respondents would vote for Margvelashvili if presidential elections were held tomorrow. For Bakradze this number stood at 22 percent and for Burjanadze at 8 percent respectively. According to GQR, 17 percent of the survey participants remained undecided.
On September 25, the delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) assessed the electoral environment in Georgia as “more open and equally competitive” compared to other recent elections. Georgia could conduct elections meeting European standards, according to PACE. To this end, however, the PACE statement stresses that the “cases of politically-motivated violence and intimidation of opposition supporters, pressure on officials to resign prematurely from their elected or appointed positions, and undue interference of local officials in the election process must be excluded during the election campaign.”
Drawing upon the polls conducted by NDI and GQR, several important dynamics can be outlined. Although the large number of uncertain respondents makes it difficult to predict the results of the first round as well as the possibility of a second round of the elections, Margvelashvili's victory in the first tour is likely. In the case of a runoff, his chances will only increase. However, Margvelashvili’s public approval rating is far behind that of the GD. On the contrary, public support for Bakradze is higher than that of the party by which he was nominated. These trends become more important in light of the PM’s decision to resign, which might shake the GD’s public support in general and the legitimacy of Margvelashvili as the potential next president in particular.