Public opinion on government plunges

  • 2000-04-06
  • By Brooke Donald
TALLINN – A little over a year after Mart Laar's government ousted the minority government of Mart Siimann, the ruling coalition is losing its popularity as an effective body to perform public duties, according to a recent poll.

An opinion poll carried out in March by Turu-Uuringute, an Estonian market research firm, revealed that more than half of those polled rate the government's performance as poor or rather poor.

The survey found that 42 percent of respondents said that the government has coped poorly with its tasks and 12 percent said that it has coped very poorly. The figures are slightly higher than the results of a similar survey completed last September in which 46 percent of the people polled said they were dissatisfied with the government's performance.

"People evaluate the situation, not the government," said Juhan Kivirahk, research director and sociologist. "If the situation is bad, then the government is bad."

Kivirahk said despite low inflation and increased buying power of many Estonians, "people are very afraid to lose their jobs." Recent bankruptcies of banks and insurance companies have frightened many people into believing that their employment is not secure, he added.

"Half of the people are living below subsistence level in Estonia," Kivirahk said recalling the findings in a United Nation's development report released last year. "I think a big portion of the people think their lives aren't better than before."

However, Kivirahk blamed lack of information about the government as one of the main reasons for the low performance rating and political bias as another.

"If you are not well informed you usually give negative opinions," Kivirahk said.

According to the poll, 43 percent of respondents who considered themselves well informed of government activities thought well of the ruling coalition and 53 percent thought badly of it. Comparatively, 61 percent of uninformed respondents thought negatively of the government and only 18 percent thought positively.

Only 30 percent of the people polled considered themselves informed versus 51 percent who said they were not informed.

The government's dependence on the Internet to disseminate information to the public may be partly to blame for society's perceived ignorance, Kivirahk said.

"Our government offices use the Internet very much and they think that if they give the information over the Internet everything will be O.K.. People want more information from usual sources: TV, radio, newspapers," he said.

Informed or not, those polled who supported the ruling coalition parties in last year's election, still give their nod of approval to the Reform Party, Pro Patria Union and Moderates, although opinions of the Moderates has a downward trend.

Supporters of the Pro Patria Union and the Reform Party give the most positive assessment of the government's performance, the poll said. Fifty-two percent of respondents pledging allegiances to the Pro Patria Union and 40 percent to the Reform Party give thumbs up to the government, whereas 28 percent of Moderates approve of the government's performance, similar to the opinions of respondents belonging to opposition parties.

The opposition Center Party remained the most popular party, supported by 26 percent of election-age people, compared to 21 percent in September. Laar's Pro Patria Union garnered support from 17 percent of the people, the same as in September. Support for the Moderates has decreased by 3 percent from the fall to 16 percent and the Reform Party is supported by 10 percent of the people, equal to September.