2012 Georgian Parliamentary Election: Fraud Forensics and Map of Opposition Support

This following is a guest-post from Fredrik M Sjoberg, a Postdoctoral Scholar at Columbia University.


The country of Georgia experienced something unique last Monday. The incumbent President conceded defeat in the parliamentary elections. This is the first time ever anywhere in South Caucasus or Central Asia that this happens. Georgia showed that it clearly wants to distance itself from its post-Soviet neighbours where election fraud is widespread. How different were these elections in terms of precinct level dynamics?

Now that the Central Election Commission (CEC) has published the precinct level electoral returns we can use fraud forensics to look for irregularities. Note that it took the CEC relatively long to publish the data, after first claiming that its website was under a Denial-of-service attack (see article). The data used here is based on a download from the official results as of 6pm (EDT) Tuesday October 2, when 92 percent of the precinct level results were in.

First, examining indications of outright fabrication we note a suspicious deviation from the expected uniform distribution. In the absence of manipulation of vote totals the last digit should follow a uniform distribution of 10 percent in each of the 0-9 digit categories (Beber & Scacco, 2012). The deviation from uniform is significant at the 5 percent level.

This is not to say that the results were fabricated, but it does call for more research. Note that none of the major election observation organizations, domestic or international, reported widespread vote-count fraud.

Second, a kernel density plot can also be used as an indication of fraud (Hyde, 2007). A Kernel plot is a non-parametric estimation of the probability density function of a random variable. Such a smoothing of the distribution helps us spot irregularities compared with the expected normal distribution. Examining the plots visually reveal no ‘unnatural’ humps at the right-hand tail as we would expect if there was ballot stuffing, or other blatant forms of fraud, that would benefit one party (or increase turnout).

Finally, let me just illustrate how the support of the opposition is distributed spatially. Georgian Dream, the party led by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, performed very well and especially so in the proportional component of the mixed electoral system. A map of the support indicates that support was spread out over the whole territory.

No doubt there will be a lot more interesting analyses coming out in the next few days. In the meantime, for a field experiment examining election fraud in the preceding Georgian parliamentary elections in 2008, see the paper Making Voters Count: Evidence from Field Experiments about the Efficacy of Domestic Election Observation.

7 Responses to 2012 Georgian Parliamentary Election: Fraud Forensics and Map of Opposition Support

  1. Andrew Gelman October 3, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    What is the meaning of the following statement above: “This is not to say that the results were fabricated, but it does call for more research”? This statement seems to me to be essentially empty of content.

  2. Fredrik M Sjoberg October 3, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    Andrew, the distribution of the last digit is suspicious. More research could reveal if there’s deviation from the expected uniform distribution in different categories of precincts (urban/rural, observered/non-observed, government strongholds vs. oppositional etc.). This can tell us something about where this occurs and suggest who it might benefit. On the other hand, given that only a few of the observer reports suggest fabrication, perhaps the results are driven by ‘innocent’ rounding. That is, more research is called for. Still empty of content?

    • Andrew Gelman October 3, 2012 at 9:57 am #


      Yes, that helps; thanks. I don’t see the distribution of the last digit as particularly suspicious (too many 0’s and 3’s, not enough 4’s and 5’s?), but now I see what you’re saying.

  3. Kevin Tuite October 3, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    With regard to the geographic distribution of the vote: The latest figures from Cesko, the Central Election Commission (with 98,8% of the precincts reporting) do show some interesting regional differences. Support for Georgian Dream was very strong in Tbilisi and Ivanishvili’s home province of Imereti. On the other hand, there is considerable support for the National Movement in regions with large minority (Azeri, Armenian, Muslim Acharian) populations, as well as in Mingrelia. Has anyone looked at the figures from this point of view? Could it be an indication that Ivanishvili’s conception of the “Georgian Dream” did not sell so well in non-Georgian and non-Orthodox regions? And what about Mingrelia? (suspicions about possible pro-Russian sentiment among the constituents of Ivanishvili’s political formation)? So far, lots of questions, not too many answers.

  4. Fredrik M Sjoberg October 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    Kevin, great remarks. Yes, a lot of questions, but few answers yet. I will say though, that presidential parties in several post-Soviet cases (e.g. Russia and Kyrgyzstan) tend to do very well in minority areas. The map illustrates this pretty well in terms of the southern regions bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan (Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli). The exact mechanism is not always clear. Yes, Ordeshook et. al have suggested that there’s more fraud in the ethnic republics of Russia, but I think there is more to it. I’m sure that these minority areas will swiftly shift their loyalty to the new party in power. I would guess that mobilization of these communities is more elite led than voter-led, and elites in these communities tend to be loyal to the incumbent (until the moment incumbents lose power).

  5. Megha October 4, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    Fredrik, is there a way I can access the precinct level returns in English? I am interested in analyzing the results, but these are the only results I have been able to find: http://www.results.cec.gov.ge/

  6. Fredrik M Sjoberg October 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    Megha, I only know about the results in Georgian at the CEC website. However, I would be surprised if the results aren’t published soon by http://www.electionsportal.ge/en/ or someone else.