With BULGAN B
Santmaral Foundation’s Politbarometer (April 2016) remains the “go-to” political poll for Mongolia. This is because a) it is the only credible poll that has been conducted repeatedly, and b) because it is generally credible.
We have thus previously commented on pre-election polls conducted by Santmaral:
Methodologically, the weakest part of the poll remains its limited polling across the country. This year’s edition was limited to Uvurkhangai, Selenge, Sukhbaatar, Dundgovi in its countryside sampling. This is particularly a limitation in the polling on specific politicians’ popularity as voters may prefer politicians from their aimag in significant numbers compared to the nationwide underlying sentiment.
Most of the results are best interpreted by comparing this year’s results to last year‘s.
- The poll offers little evidence for any growth of “resource nationalist” sentiments. [See my recent post for an argument that that label is useless to begin with.]
- Mongolians are feeling generally more confident than last year and particularly so when it comes to questions about democracy.
- Populist politicians continue to be the most popular.
- Election outlook: many Mongolians are undecided, the MPP is not gaining as much from the DP’s stuggles as might be expected, the XUN party may be viable.
Many observers will be tempted to look at the listing of most popular politicians, find Ganbaatar, Enkhbayar, Battulga, and Uyanga leading that category and declare this to be an indication that “resource nationalism” is on the rise. Never mind that this label remains problematic and thus appears in quotes here.
Apart from the popularity of these individual politicians, Santmaral includes a number of questions that measure attitudes about the state’s involvement in the economy generally and in resource projects more specifically.
When we compare the 2015 responses with the 2016 responses (for Q E5 “What should be the proportion of Mongolian and Foreign ownership in strategic mine deposits”) we notice that the share of respondents who want 100% Mongolian ownership of strategic mine deposits has slid from 21.7% to 20.7% at the national aggregate level, but for Ulaanbaatar (where we would deem the poll more reliable and informative, and where we would expect populist arguments to have more potential adherents) that proportion has gone down from 26.4% to 20.3%. This drop seems to be reflected in the gain in respondents who favour majority Mongolian stakes from 58.6% to 64.6% in Ulaanbaatar. And the number of respondents who endorse majority foreign stakes is also up, though only a little. These numbers certainly don’t seem to indicate simplistic economic nationalism.
Another question that specifically asks about nationalization (E19. “Some people think that the state should nationalize every Mongolian company”) offers a similar conclusion. Nationwide only 1/7 respondents favour such an approach.
Confidence in Democracy
Most observers would probably agree with an assessment that the DP (party and government) struggles have produced much hand-wringing about democracy. The proposals for constitutional reform late last year hinted at this, raising the spectre of dissatisfaction with democracy just as celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the democratic revolution were coming to an end.
Yet, this year’s poll suggests that Mongolians are more confident in democracy than they were last year. When asked about the need for stronger leadership, perhaps a proxy for some latent desire for more authoritarian rule, respondents indicated a desire for such leadership at a greater rate (64%) than last year (59%), but endorsements of technocratic government and more democracy are also up around 6-7%. Should we conclude then that voters are looking for more powerful democratic experts, perhaps? Or, are voters simply looking forward to exercising their right to voice a view on government at the ballot box and endorsing strengthened democracy in that context?
One of the most-discussed element in the PolitBarometer poll is always the question inquiring for the “Top 10 Politicians”. In this listing, there has been remarkably little change over the years. The same group of politicians tends to show up with some regularity, though there are some newcomers and some politicians who drop out as well as some shifts in popularity.
We generally disregard the countryside responses on this question as it is too vulnerable to preferences in specific regions.
- The top names, Ganbaatar, Enkhbayar, “Jenko” Battulga, Uyanga could all be characterized as populists.
- The scandals and discussion of Ganbaatar and Jenko recently, seem to show that “there’s no such thing as bad PR” as they remain popular.
- Uyanga remains the only women on the list.
- Compared to last year, Ganbaatar’s popularity has declined from 36% to 27%.
- Pres. Elbegdorj has dropped from 4th to 7th.
- Bat-Uul, Ulaanbaatar mayor and a possible DP presidential candidate, has dropped out of the top 10 entirely.
- Speaker of parliament and DP chair Enkhbold Z has cracked the top 10.
- Amargjargal is now in 5th.
- The only MPP leader in the Top 10 is Bat-Erdene. Other party officials like Enkhbold M or Khurelbaatar, for example, do not appear anywhere in the Top 10.
In the countryside listing, not that the greatest difference in popularity is for Jenko who is much less popular in the aimags sampled than in the city.
Apart from particular policy issues and the popularity of individual politicians, the PolitBarometer is obviously significant as an indication of how the parliamentary election at the end of June may go.
Here are some of the most suggestive results:
- If you combine “don’t know” and “no answer” to form an undecided category that would amount to over 40% of voters. Obviously, that leaves lots of room for movement during the campaign and leading up to the election. Given that 85% of respondents signal their intention to vote (much higher than actual turnout in the last elections) that must give some hope to all political operatives as to their chances to win more votes.
- (Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps) The MPP does not seem to benefiting from the DP’s struggles and factional turmoil to suggest a massive victory like the 2000 election following a DP government. The two “big” parties are favoured by only 15% in Ulaanbaatar. The lack of personal popularity of MPP leaders may be contributing to this, as may the emphasis on Ulaanbaatar in the polling.
- With a nation-wide share of only 10% of the vote, the MPRP will have to depend on prominent candidates and their chances at first-past-the-post seats to return in numbers similar to the current parliament.
- Prominent independents generally look to have a good chance at election in first-past-the-post races given the overall division of the electorate.
- The CWGP scores a very low share of 1.4% nationwide and even in Ulaanbaatar is only selected by 2%. This may be due in part to the on-going discussions of a merger of the CWGP into the DP, but it casts a shadow over the future of the part.
- The XUN Party (National Labour Party) does seem to be within reach of seats in the Ikh Khural with a 5% share of the vote in Ulaanbaatar contributing to 3.4% nationwide. That will depend largely on some resolution of party governance and recruitment of prominent candidates. But note that given the constant share of the vote for the larger parties, XUN does not seem to be splitting their vote, but rather may be collecting voters from other smaller parties.