harout covid survey


EVN Report has provided extensive coverage of the COVID-19 situation in Armenia over the last few months, including daily briefings and a comprehensive overview of the government response.

The 2020 Caucasus Barometer survey, conducted in late February and early March, showed that trust in the executive government remained high, more than a year after the landslide 2018 election. By the time the results of that survey were released, however, it was not clear if the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic had eroded that relationship between the Pashinyan administration and the country’s electorate.

According to official government statistics, Armenia was harder hit by the novel coronavirus, in absolute numbers, than its South Caucasus neighbors of Georgia and Azerbaijan, despite having the smallest population among the three. [1]


Table 1. COVID-19 Statistics in the South Caucasus

01 south caucasus table
Source: Retrieved: July 21, 2020.

One factor that is often missed in such comparisons is how Armenia stacked up against Western European and North American countries. As Table 2 shows, while the case load is very high relative to the country’s population (on par with that of the United States), the death toll is in the middle of the pack, suggesting that the public healthcare response has been able to rise to the challenge so far, at least as well as many nations with higher levels of public healthcare spending. Another explanation is that the figure used for Armenia’s population, as the denominator in the normalized comparison, has historically been inflated.


Table 2. COVID-19 Statistics in Western Europe and North America

02 europe table
Source: Retrieved: July 21, 2020.

The latest poll, commissioned by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and funded by USAID, suggests that the Armenian public is generally satisfied with the government response to the pandemic. The sample size included 1517 Armenian residents. Whereas similar (but more general) surveys in 2019 were conducted in person, this one, which took place between June 18 and June 25, 2020, was conducted over the phone.

According to the poll, 71% of respondents were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the Armenian government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic; contrasting with 26% who were “somewhat not satisfied” or “not at all satisfied.” The results seemed counterintuitive, as measures associated with the pandemic have been a polarizing topic in Armenian society (and globally), where some have openly expressed their resentment at mandatory guidelines requiring wearing masks even while outdoors (and the associated fines for non-compliance), while others have demanded more severe government action in the form of a return to a nationwide lockdown (which has proved not to be popular in neighboring Azerbaijan, due to the police action required to enforce it). The poll suggests that the Armenian government may have found a middle-of-the-road approach that most people can live with.

The poll’s published margin of error is 2.5% but it is unclear if wider factors could have biased its results. For example, a few months ago, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan personally phoned residents who had had their electricity cut off for non-payment (even after partial government subsidies of residents’ utility bills). Some of these phone calls were later published online. One was particularly embarrassing, when a citizen was hesitant to disclose information about his income as a dentist. Separately, in early June, Pashinyan had asked supporters to send him photos of outdoor crowding, some of which he posted online. Those who appeared in the photos felt they had been publicly shamed, though Pashinyan later clarified that that was not his intent. It is conceivable that such actions could have led respondents to be less critical of the government in a phone survey.

Respondents were not hesitant to indicate a comparatively lower approval of the country’s parliament, however, which received only 53% approval for their pandemic response, and a higher 31% disapproval. Party-specific approval responses showed that the ruling My Step Alliance was seen as more effective than the two parliamentary opposition parties.

03 party graph
Source: International Republican Institute. Used with permission.

The poll shows that the pandemic has not impacted Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s personal popularity, which remains very strong. 84% of respondents indicated they held a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of him. His daily Facebook video updates were listed as the most effective medium for communicating government decisions to the public. Though a photo of him around a maskless, crowded table in Artsakh made the rounds on social media back in May, that incident appears not to have impacted public opinion.

Even if Armenians are generally satisfied with the government response, it does not mean they are dismissing the gravity of the situation. 85% were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that they or an acquaintance will become infected with COVID-19. An even higher 90% were concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy. With restrictions on non-citizen tourists entering the country remaining in force at least into August, the normally-busy summer tourism season (an important source of foreign currency inflows) has suffered a palpable setback. One hopeful indicator is that domestic travel may have picked up to offset the blow. According to unscientific, anecdotal evidence (not part of the IRI survey), many resorts in the country are still selling out their rooms as Armenians look to escape the summer heat and take some time to de-stress in a stressful, uncertain time.


[1] Analysts take these official government figures with a grain of salt, at least in the case of Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia, which have lower levels of government transparency.
[2] The higher 295 figure includes patients who have died after being diagnosed with COVID-19, where the virus was not the cause of death. To date, a total of 215 such cases have been reported.

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