What are Voters Looking For?

By Julian Dierkes

The campaign for the Mongolian presidency has not entered its hot phase yet but candidates have been confirmed. When Enkhbold M (MPP) and Battulga Kh (DP) were selected, I already reflected on them, another post focused on S Ganbaatar (if confirmed as MPRP candidate) and on the dynamics of a three-way race should follow.

The Electorate’s Mood

Generally, there has been less anxiety around the past presidential elections as the electoral procedure is very straightforward, i.e. direct election of a person, and thus seems less open to manipulation. Past victories have been readily accepted by the losing candidates. There is also generally less frustration with this election as it offers voters an opportunity to actually select a person, rather than contribute in a more diffuse fashion to a parliamentary majority.


As has been the case around previous elections, ahead of the campaign season there are some public opinion polls that give us some indication of the mood of the electorate. In Spring 2017, there are two such surveys, Sant Maral Foundation‘s Politbarometer (supported by the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation) and a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute with support from the Canadian government. The results of the Politbarometer can be found on the Sant Maral website (PDF), the IRI poll on their website (PDF).

I have previously discussed some of the methodological challenges that polling faces in Mongolia, leading me to the conclusion, that these poll results are best read as indications of tendencies in the electorate, particularly in over-time shifts, rather than as reflecting the electorate’s views more directly. The results for specific politicians should also not be taken as a prediction of election results. Yet, these polls continue to be the only publicly available data points regarding the electorate’s mood. And, with recent legislative changes, we might see another round of publicly-available polls before the campaign opens on June 6.

The clearest results from the most recent polls are probably indications of the electorate’s dissatisfaction with institutional politics, and the primacy of economic concerns as driving voters’ hopes for the election.

Dissatisfaction with Institutional Politics

[Below, I will refer to the two polls as SM for Politbarometer and as IRI for the IRI-initiated poll. Unless identified, I cite the nationwide number.]

In SM G-1 just over half of respondents (54.2%) approve or fully approve of the statement, “In principal, you can trust that the government is doing the right things for citizens”.

Fully 81.3% of respondents do not see political parties as representing public opinion (SM S6) and over half of them see “rather little” or no influence for voters (58.7%).

Of political institutions, political parties gather the least confidence. Only a third of respondents are confident or rather confident in parties (SM S12). On IRI’s list of 15 institutions, parties rank dead last with only 30% appreciating their performance. The presidency does not fare much better at 35% (IRI, p. 17).

Voters’ Hopes and Fears

As they did ahead of last year’s parliamentary election, Mongolians continue to identify the economy as the area of greatest concern. Thus nearly a third of respondents list unemployment as “the most important problem facing Mongolia” in an open-ended question (IRI, p. 7). The number is even higher in SM G4 where 43% rate unemployment as the top problem facing the nation.

Given some of the gently positive economic news around the rise in commodity prices and the likelihood of an IMF-brokered bailout, it is perhaps not surprising that the number of respondents who see a dire economic situation has dropped slightly. But at 82% (bad or very bad in IRI, p. 8) that is still a very high proportion and one has to imagine that voters will look for solutions to the economic troubles in the election campaign.

When asked which aspects of the government’s performance in the past 9 months Mongolians have been most pleased with, the answer is “fighting crime” where 38% see very good or good performance (IRI, p. 15). They are least impressed with the performance on air pollution which 80% (!) rate bad or very bad (IRI, p. 15). The bottom five in terms of satisfaction with performance are air pollution, reducing poverty (79%),  improving economy (73%), corruption (71%), affordable housing (64%) (IRI, p. 15).

Conceptions of Leadership

SM 3a points to the longing for a “strong hand” that is often attributed to Mongolians. 68.1% of respondents find a “a strong leader who does not have to bother with the Parliament and elections” good or rather good! That is a nearly identical number to respondents who support democratic governance (SM 3d, 70.2%).

One of the most interesting questions in the IRI survey is a comparison of the desirability of democracy vs. prosperity. I call this the Chinese question, as the Chinese government continues to argue that prosperity should come before individual rights/democracy. The responses from Mongolians are consistent in three IRI surveys: Democracy more/somewhat more important 49%, prosperity more/somewhat more important 38% (13% don’t know, IRI, p. 11).

The electorate seems somewhat disenchanted with the stability that the MPP promised in last year’s election compared to the relative chaos that the DP was perceived to have brought. Now only 26% expect a more stable political government as compared to August 2016 when this number was 41% (IRI, p. 13). While Enkhbold has disassociated himself from the current government, he will still have to grapple with the reduced confidence in the stability that the MPP might bring.

Note that the various SM questions that refer to individual politicians barely mention Battulga and Ganbaatar! Enkhbold gets more mentions, in part because he seemed much more likely to be nominated all along, but he does not receive very noticeable support other than in his (electoral) home of Tuv.


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 @jdierkes@sciences.social and tweets @jdierkes
This entry was posted in Corruption, Democracy, Democratic Party, Elections, Mongolian People's Party, Party Politics, Policy, Politics, Presidential 2017, Public Policy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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