The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced multiple national governments to either alter, postpone or cancel various elections for 2020. One such example is Serbia who postponed their parliamentary election originally scheduled for April 26, 2020. This blog post will examine overall government sentiment in Serbia as well as media sentiment, a possible factor that may impact future elections.
On March 15, 2020, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić declared a state of emergency in order to control the COVID-19 outbreak in Serbia. Under the state of emergency, Vučić has assumed sole authoritative power over government decisions, a move that is viewed as unconstitutional. The following day Vučić postponed the parliamentary elections that were scheduled for April 26 and did not offer a new date for when it would occur. According to polling, Vučić’s right-wing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) was leading all other parties by wide margins. Like our approach toward Poland, we examined the sentiment toward governance from our Serbian network of contributors.
Premise began collecting governance sentiment data from Serbia on January 5, 2020, and as of April 29, 2020, we have received 2,439 total responses. The first level of governance sentiment we reviewed was ‘currently, my national government is establishing public policies that enable a satisfactory standard of living for citizens.’ A little over a third (34%) of the total responses ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ with that statement, slightly less than a third (30.82%) are apathetic and a little more than a third (35.18%) ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree.’
The next level of sentiment we looked at was ‘currently, the government is providing vital services such as clean water and reliable electricity in a satisfactory manner.’ Here the responses are more positive, with 53.82% being either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree,’ and a similar level of apathy from above (29.36%).
While our contributors show satisfaction toward the provision of basic services, that does not necessarily mean equal marks toward government policy and standard of living, especially when there is a state of emergency with strict policies in place that is starting to become unpopular amongst the citizens.
Since Vučić was elected in 2017 he has been accused of curtailing freedom of the press and has relied on media platforms that are aligned with his government to convey information to the masses.
To better understand how information regarding COVID-19 and the state of emergency is being digested in Serbia we looked at sentiment toward traditional media platforms (radio, television, newspapers) to see if they are viewed as accurate and unbiased. Premise began collecting media sentiment data from Serbia on January 20, 2020, and as of April 29, 2020, has received 3,394 total responses from our network. We asked our network to respond to the following statement: ‘Overall, radio/television/newspaper media provide accurate and unbiased information.’ We then examined the response between two different age groups, ages 16 to 35 (2,290 responses) and 36 and older (1,104 responses).
The responses from the 16 to 35 age group show a majority of indifference (neither agree nor disagree) toward accuracy and bias amongst radio (41.77%), television (37.96%) and newspaper (37.63%) outlets.
The levels of indifference are higher with responses from the 36 and up age group for radio (42.79%), television (39.42%) and newspapers (42.07%). Overall disagreement responses are slightly higher with the older age group, perhaps indicating a level of skepticism toward messaging coming from the government through traditional media.
For the older generation being wary of information from the government provided state-run platforms can be understandable. This is a generation that remembers the state media apparatus of former Yugoslavia, the use of disinformation during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, and the authoritative rule of Slobodan Milošević. The continuation of state-run media is not a new phenomenon for them, and as indicated earlier the restrictive policies of the state of emergency are becoming a compounding factor on how the Serbian government is being perceived by our contributors.
You can visit www.premise.com/COVID-19 to learn more about the data we are collecting about this global pandemic.