AKP and CHP voters agree on one thing: US poses a threat to Turkey

A recent survey by Turkuazlab revealed the divisions that prevail in Turkish society. It underlined the level of distrust between different party supporters. It also showed that amongst the few points that united those voters were the perception that the US poses a grave threat to Turkey and that of the West conspiring to divide the country.

Last week, Turkuazlab published an extensive survey about the political perceptions, values and respective points of view of one another in Turkey. Entitled “Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey 2020”, the survey is based on 4,0006 individual interviews. The research team concluded that Turkish society is getting ever more polarised and that more and more Turks are living in eco-chambers that shelter them from alternative views.

“What if we are more polarized? What does that imply?”, I asked Prof. Emre Erdoğan, Head of the Department of International Relations at Istanbul's Bilgi University and the scientific coordinator of the project. “The people’s sense of living together is waning. First people start to dislike each other, but when it leads to dehumanization and alienation, it harms democracy. People make their judgements according to who said something, not according to the topic itself. This makes it harder to talk to each other and make peace.”

In an interview we conducted for a podcast available on Kısadalga, Prof. Erdoğan stated that political sectarianism was also rising in the US, the UK and in Eastern European countries.

The survey showed that 75% of the respondents did not want their child to marry a supporter of the political party which they felt “the most distant to”. Similar responses were given on conducting business, letting their kids play together or having a neighbour of “the other party”. 

And 40% of respondents stated that the People's Democratic Party (HDP) was the “other party” which they felt overwhelmingly “distant towards”. The ruling Justice and Development (AKP) ranked second with 24% of respondents declaring it the “party they felt distant towards”. People tend to describe the “other”, i.e. supporters of other parties with such strong adjectives as “cruel” or “immoral”.

Prof. Erdoğan remembers a study he conducted at the the end of the 1990s, when people were asked why they would vote for a different political party: “They would answer, ‘isn’t it my vote? I’ll change it if I please’. But today, people believe they will change their identity, if they change their votes.”

It is also very troubling to see that people do believe in depriving supporters of other party of the freedoms they enjoy. 48% of them even consented to tapping “the other’s phones”. (Detailed findings of the survey can be found here)

To me, it is no wonder that political intolerance is so widespread, as political leaders, especially the government, as well as the media engage in hate speech on daily basis. But this survey does not deal with the effects of political discourse.

What is also noteworthy is the Turks’ foreign policy perceptions. AKP and CHP supporters agree on one out of 78 different topics: the perception of a national threat, that posed by the US.

The majority of AKP (64%) and MHP (71%) voters supported the use of military force when it was “necessary to protect its interests in the international arena”. The support rate among CHP and HDP supporters was 36%.

When asked about a possible referendum on Turkey’s full membership to EU, 50% of MHP supporters and 42% of AKP supporters declared they would vote “no”. The percentage of “yes” votes among İYİ Party, HDP and CHP were 52%, 62% and 65%, respectively.

Another topic of interest on which different party supporters agreed on was the so-called “Sèvres Syndrome”, which is the belief that Western countries are conspiring to divide Turkey:

- 79% of the respondents thought that European countries supported separatist organizations such as PKK

- 67% of the respondents thought that the "Crusader Spirit" still prevailed

- 64% of the respondents thought that the reforms that were required by the EU as part of the Accession Process were no different from capitulations

Again I’m not surprised since these views are emphasized by the AKP-MHP regime as well as by the CHP and İYİ Party. But it is ironic, and sad to see so many people still fear a division of the country, whereas the real division prevails between themselves.