IRI Tunisia Poll: Economic Reform Vital to Democratic Success
Washington, DC – A new IRI poll, fielded two weeks after the government’s first 100 days in office, found that while Tunisians were generally supportive of the new government they felt the country was headed in the wrong direction and that future progress hinged largely on economic growth. Indeed the current government’s competence on the economy and its ability to solve Tunisia’s employment challenges may impact Tunisians’ support for democracy.
Seventy-two percent felt the country was headed in the wrong direction, citing a lack of economic growth and rising insecurity as the two largest problems facing the country. While a plurality of Tunisians continued to favor democracy to any other kind of government, there were clear limits to their patience with the slow pace of change. However, there were positive signs that reinforced the promise of continued progress on Tunisia’s democratic transition.
Continued Marginalization of Interior Regions Must Be Addressed
Tunisians recognized that increasing investment and developing infrastructure in the central and southern governorates are among the best options for economic growth, rating this policy as 4.3 on a scale of one to five. Development of the interior and south also ranked highest on the list of priorities for government spending.
Tunisia’s new constitution mandates a decentralized model of governance. If done correctly, the majority of Tunisians agreed that decentralization could help address regional disparities. Fifty-four percent thought that democratically elected municipal and regional councils with budget authority would lead to greater economic prosperity, better services and reduce the economic disparity between the interior and coastal regions.
“Development of the interior and south is a significant challenge that must be solved and it is encouraging to see that a majority of Tunisians recognize this,” said Scott Mastic, IRI’s Middle East and North Africa division director. “The question is whether the government is up to the task.”
Positive Disposition toward Increased International Trade
Tunisians appeared positively disposed toward increased international trade, more effective use of land and reducing the size of government. Sixty-five percent viewed growing trade and business ties with other countries as a good thing, with 24 percent opposed. And 91 percent agreed that an increased presence of foreign companies in Tunisia is good for the country.
Tunisians also indicated that the government must reduce the high levels of unnecessary spending. Ninety-one percent of all Tunisians favored the government reducing the number of people that it employs and transferring to them ownership of arid land and start-up funds for farming or other innovative uses.
Security Challenges and Democracy
Sixty-two percent believed the government responded adequately to the terrorist attack at the Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015, and 59 percent reported feeling somewhat satisfied with democracy in Tunisia. Yet, without economic growth and security, Tunisians will remain ambivalent about democracy, as has been seen in previous polling data. Continued support for democracy is contingent upon Tunisia’s ability to expand economic opportunity, increase growth and implement reforms that will allow Tunisians to experience the dividends of democratic governance.
Note, this poll was conducted prior to the terrorist attack at a beach in Sousse on June 26, 2015.
This is the 14th poll IRI has conducted in Tunisia since January 2011, the 10th since national constituent assembly elections on October 23, 2011 and the first since the 2014 parliamentary and presidential elections. The poll, conducted May 30-June 8, 2015, 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 1,225 interviews were completed, yielding an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.85 percent at the midrange of the 95 percent confidence level. This poll was conducted with support from the Middle East Partnership Initiative.