IRI POLL: Tunisia’s democratic transition at a crossroads
“Democracy does not lead to overnight prosperity, and Tunisians are coming to terms with this reality,” said Scott Mastic, IRI’s director for Middle East and North Africa programs. “Yet the public’s commitment to democracy is evident in the face of mounting regional challenges. Effective democratic governance is the ultimate path to long-term stability in Tunisia and those who want to see the country succeed must provide the tools of support needed now more than ever.”
The January 2011 revolution that ousted autocratic ruler Zine Abidine Ben Ali turned Tunisia’s political and social order upside down virtually overnight. In the years that followed, Tunisians held high expectations about how quickly economic prosperity and democracy would develop. A February 2014 IRI poll conducted after the constitution’s passage indicated a dramatic upturn in optimism, suggesting new the constitution and the peaceful transfer of power to a technocratic government fueled these hopes. However, five months later, improvements in daily life haven’t kept pace with those expectations, and Tunisians have again become frustrated with the pace of change.
Increased Demand for Democratic Dividends
Since February 2014, unfulfilled expectations and the slow pace of economic growth have contributed to a 19 point increase (from 48 percent to 67 percent) in the percentage of people who think Tunisia is headed in the wrong direction. Although reason for concern, this number is still better than the levels throughout 2013 when between 77 and 79 percent of respondents believed Tunisia to be headed in the wrong direction.
When asked about their highest priorities, Tunisians are unsatisfied with their government’s pace of progress on the economy and employment. Fifty-eight percent of respondents described the current economic situation in Tunisia as very bad, and a further 22 percent said somewhat bad.
But not all the news is bad for Tunisia’s leaders. Despite the growing frustration, 67 percent said the security situation has improved over the last year. Overall, when asked if they were satisfied with the current government’s performance, 60 percent expressed at least some satisfaction. This is down from 74 percent in February, but is still a strong majority and an indicator that people remain hopeful.
Faith in Democracy at a Critical Juncture
IRI polling data since 2011 clearly indicates that Tunisians are most satisfied with their democracy when clear benchmarks are achieved. The public’s perception of Tunisia’s democracy rose dramatically after the 2011 elections and again after the passage of the constitution and the peaceful transition of government in January 2014, demonstrating a resilient enthusiasm for the process of democratic reform. The euphoria of democratic progress quickly erodes, however, once democratic achievements do not immediately yield solutions to the deep socio-economic challenges, and Tunisians increasingly conflate economic problems with democratic ones. Indeed, this poll finds that the perceived lack of democracy in the country has increased, with a record 39 percent responding that Tunisia is not a democracy at all. Sixty-five percent of those who view Tunisia’s democracy as full, nearly full or flawed affirm that they are not at all satisfied with the results of democracy.
When taken in context, it is clear people’s perception of democracy is related to their economic well-being. That is why it is critical Tunisia’s leaders focus on programs to strengthen the economy and create jobs. Tunisia is also operating in a challenging neighborhood where many do not wish to see a successful democratic transition and where security challenges make democratic progress difficult, but all the more important.
Ultimately it is a democratic form of government that will create the conditions to realize the goals of Tunisia’s revolution: freedom, dignity and prosperity.
This is the 12th poll IRI has conducted in Tunisia since January 2011 and the eighth since national constituent assembly elections on October 23, 2011. The survey, conducted June 22-July 1, 2014, was undertaken in cooperation with Elka Consulting, a Tunisia-based market survey research firm, and international research firm Williams and Associates of Salem, Massachusetts. A total of 1,253 interviews were completed, yielding an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.84 percent at the midrange of the 95 percent confidence level.
This poll was conducted with support from the Middle East Partnership Initiative. In accordance with Tunisian election law, this survey may be not published or referenced in Tunisia until the elections have concluded. IRI is not responsible for any illegal or unauthorized use of this survey.