By Emil Danielyan
The United States has abandoned plans to sponsor a first-ever exit poll in Armenia in the face of serious opposition misgivings about the objectivity of public opinion surveys already conducted with U.S. funding.
The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) offered to finance and organize such a poll as part of their efforts to contribute to the freedom and fairness of next month’s Armenian presidential election. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian welcomed the idea at an early December meeting with Joseph Pennington, the U.S. charge d’affaires.
However, Sarkisian’s main election challengers have been far more skeptical about its positive impact on the integrity of the electoral process. Specifically, they object to the Americans’ reliance on the Armenian Sociological Association, a polling organization reputed to be close to the government.
The ASA has done the crucial fieldwork for an ongoing series of U.S.-funded opinion polls on a wide range of issues of interest to Armenians. The election-related results of those polls, nominally conducted by a Lithuanian branch of the U.S. Gallup Organization, have given Sarkisian a big lead over the other major presidential candidates.
The latter, citing the ASA’s involvement in the process, have rejected the polling data as fraudulent. Their campaign managers made it clear late last month that they will not consider the planned exit poll trustworthy if it is conducted in the same format. They said the poll will be objective only if Gallup avoids dealing with any of the Armenian polling organizations.
In a statement on Friday, the U.S. Embassy implied that the opposition objections were a major reason why it decided to cancel the project. “We continue to think that, in principle, exit polling can be a useful instrument for enhancing the transparency and credibility of elections,” the embassy said. “In this particular case, however, given the limited preparation time remaining prior to the February 19 election and the questions raised from various parts of the political spectrum, we decided it would be wiser not to go forward with a project that faced implementation problems and risked becoming an unhelpful distraction in the Armenian political debate.”
The statement also cited Gallup’s failure to resolve “all of the detailed procedural questions in a way that was fully satisfactory to all sides.”