Public Attitude Towards Political Life Electoral Experience Confidence in Leadership and Civic Participation in Armenia
Summary of Key Findings
Between May IS - 19, 2000 the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) commissioned a series of focus group sessions (eight in total) to be carried out across Armenia. These focus groups were conducted to find out how ordinary Armenians feel about their leaders and institutions, their confidence in the electoral process, and their overall perceptions of the political and economic situation in Armenia today. While the findings from this research project cannot be said to be scientifically representative of the adult population of Armenia, they do provide important insights into the attitudes and opinions of Armenians of different ages and education, and from different locations. These insights can help aid organizations in identifying areas of greatest concern and need in the process of democratic development in Armenia.
The group sessions were organized to cover the main concentration of voters, and areas with lower rates of voter participation in the elections. Overall, four sessions were conducted in Yerevan, one in Syunik (Kappan), one in Tavush (Idjevan), one in Ararat (Artashat), and one in Kotayk (Abovian). Eighty (80) participants were recruited for these sessions. Another eight (8) participants took part in a pilot session used to develop the materials. Trained moderators conducted each session, which were video-taped. This research produced video-tapes of the sessions, Armenian transcripts, extensive English notes, and data bases created from selfcompleted questionnaires filled out by participants before the sessions began. A supplementary interview was carried out May 25, 2000 in three districts (15 precincts) on Election Day to verify the accuracy of the electoral lists.
The research data show that the overwhelming concern of Armenians today is to take care of themselves and their families under the difficult conditions in which most Armenians live. Since Armenian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, limited work and consistent unemployment has worn down the exuberant spirit Armenians displayed in the early days of independence. The war in Karabakh has also brought its hardships to ordinary Armenians. People's concerns now seem to be focused on the economy and absence of work. In addition to economic collapse and the trauma due to a drawn-out war, Armenians also have had to put up with political upheaval, high-level assassinations, and terrorist acts in the last few years.
The data from the focus groups shows that this combination of political and economic uncertainty weighs heavily upon ordinary Armenians and diminishes hopes for the future. Indeed, a recent USAID survey conducted in 1999 shows that the economic performance of the past few years has even led a majority of Armenians to consider a return to pre-independence times. This survey shows that a majority (54%) would prefer the "economic security we had in Soviet times" over the freedoms of today. The decision to become an independent state, while vital to Armenians, is second-guessed by many, if the current malaise is the result of this decision. Many believe that it is.
These hardships also shape Armenians' understanding and desire for democracy. To many of the participants in the focus groups, democracy still primarily means the possibility to have limited civil freedoms. But this is only the positive meaning, which is understood by the concept of "democracy." The data shows that a majority of associations that democracy evokes tend to be negative in nature. Dissatisfaction caused by bad economic conditions, unemployment, and very low standards of living is connected in the ordinary consciousness with the democratic reforms of recent years. The result is "the devaluation" of democratic values and the idea of democracy in public consciousness. Participants also expressed the view that "democracy" as it is understood in western terms does not exist in Armenia. Indeed, some participants stated that such a concept does not correspond to the Armenian mentality.
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