National Survey of Mongolian Public Opinion

By Bulgan B and Julian Dierkes

Just three weeks after Santmaral’s PolitBarometer came out, we have another indicator of Mongolian public opinion, courtesy of IRI with funding from the Canadian government, the “National Survey of Mongolian Public Opinion”. (Full Results (PDF))

As with the previous post on the PolitBarometer, we’ll try to pick out some of the surprising and/or important insights provided by the data.

Also like the PolitBarometer, there was significant focus on questions surrounding the durability of democracy, the policy areas of particular concern to Mongolians, and of economic policy. In addition to these areas, gender also was a focus of the survey.

But first,


The most notable difference between the PolitBarometer and the IRI Poll is the broader coverage of the countryside in the latter. Data from 13 aimags was included in the IRI Poll, thus more than half of the provinces were represented. While that still leaves the result open to some biases through regional political allegiances, this bias – if any – is reduced further from the PolitBarometer data.

2,800 interviews in the countryside and 2,200 interviews in Ulaanbaatar means that the countryside views could trump some of the Ulaanbaatar views that may be more dominant in public perceptions, but not at the ballot box. In some of the results, it seems like a countryside tilt could be part of the explanation and we identify those below. The numbers reflect population distributions, of course, but what makes this proportion particularly interesting is that Ulaanbaatar’s “share” of public discourse far outstrips its population.

Because of the fairly large sample, the margin of error is small at 1.4% at a 95% confidence level.


As for the PolitBarometer, the IRI Poll speaks to some confidence that Mongolians have in democracy, but also points to some challenges to that interpretation.

At the most general level, it seems that Mongolians believe in democracy, but that they have relatively less trust in the political institutions that democracy has brought with it to democracy. In the various questions about trust in/performance of certain institutions, parties, cabinet, the PM, the president, etc. score low, while voters still report an abstract belief in democracy, voting and profess to plan to vote in significant numbers.

The “Chinese Way”

In the context of Mongolians’ support for democracy, one question stood out as particularly interesting, “In Mongolia, if you could have only one or the other, which is more important to you: a democratic system of government or a prosperous economy?” (p. 51). 41% chose democracy over prosperity, 49% vice-versa. Right next door to Mongolia, in China, the government has obviously been arguing for years that material development should come before political freedoms. It seems that Mongolians are open to that argument, though it should be noted that support for democracy is more enthusiastic (27% “Democracy is definitely more important to me”) than for prosperity (18% “Prosperity is definitely more important to me”).


For many of the questions in the gender section, it’s most interesting to dream about longitudinal data. For all the questions that touched on domestic violence, for example, it would be fascinating to see to what extent public perceptions shifted in the course of some of the public mobilization and legislative initiatives last year, but unfortunately, a reliable retroactive survey tool has not been invented yet.

The somewhat contradictory nature of answers to questions regarding women’s representation in politics could be an indication of changing dynamics on gender. On the one hand, there is a broad support for women in politics and leadership role (p. 25 and 26 give support from well over half of the respondents to promoting women to leadership positions/elected office), yet, many respondents also seem to be comforted in traditionalist views of women’s role in society. More than 3/4 of respondents thus endorse the statement (p. 28) “Women should be primarily responsible for taking care of the house and children.”

Interestingly, responses by women and men were not very different on the question of whether “Women are equally represented in political decision-making positions in Mongolia” (p. 22). One might have expected that men see more equity than women, but that is not the case.

Where responses were disaggregated, one result was puzzling, the difference between women and men in response to a question about their personal economic situation. While 66% of women see themselves as likely worse off in the coming year, only 44% of men responded in the same way (p. 10). This would suggest that the current economic challenges are having a disproportionate impact on women’s opportunities.

Dominant Political Issues

Responses to various questions about the most important issues facing the nation point to the economy broadly, and bread-and-butter issues that directly affect voters, specifically. This is reflected in the ranking of top 3 issues (p. 13) as well as the assessment of the government’s performance on p. 19 and 20. In this assessment it should be noted that the only issue that comes close to the negative judgement of the government on the economy is air pollution where only 85% of respondents assess the performance as poor or very poor. Note that the concern with air pollution is especially surprising as only 43% of the respondents were from Ulaanbaatar and that air pollution seems unlikely to rank as a pressing problem in the countryside or even aimag centres.


While the PolitBarometer has always probed for views on political involvement in the economy, the IRI Poll adds a twist to this governance question, namely the influence of the aimag vs. national government. Fully 44% of respondents would assign primary control of natural resources to the provincial government vs. 37% for the national government (p. 14). This sensitivity to regional justice is also reflected in the broad support (84% strongly + somewhat agree) for a statement like, “My province should be given a proportional share of revenue from natural resources to address the problems affecting the province.”

(Social)  Media

An entire section of the survey was devoted to the media. Here, it was startling how much trust Mongolians place in TV, and how little they seem to rely on social media/the internet for information and election coverage. TV? Really? TV9 which is openly affiliated with the MPRP’s Enkhbayar, for example, is the second-most often watched station (p. 60) and 49% respondents point to TV as the source of most of their information related to the election (p. 58).

Perhaps this reliance on TV is partly skewed by the many aimag centre/countryside respondents in the survey who might have less access to other sources.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots and tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in Aimags, Countryside, Democracy, Democratic Party, Ikh Khural 2016, Media and Press, Mining Governance, Party Politics, Public Opinion, Research on Mongolia, Security Apparatus, Social Issues and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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