First-time and young voters matter in any election. Yet more than ever, in Turkey and across the world, the voting behavior of the young is changing. The youth is making a comeback. Previously disinterested youth are reclaiming the ballot box.
In the 2018 midterm elections of the U.S., the turnout for the age group 18-29 was 49%, up from 36% in 2014 – which had hit a 74-year low. Likewise, the overall participation in Europe’s parliamentary elections was higher than previously due to the stronger role of younger generations. The elections marked an increase of 14 percentage points among voters below the age of 25 and 12 percentage points for voters between the age of 25 and 39.
The youth are making their voices heard and not let the old folk determine their future, like they did during the UK’s Brexit referendum. According to post-Brexit referendum polls, just over 70% of those aged between 18 and 24 voted in favor remaining within the EU, just under 30% voting to leave it. On the other hand, 40% of those aged 65 and over supported “Remain”, while 60% voted “Leave”.
In the Turkish context, youth voter turnout has long been high. While no conclusive research has been conducted regarding youth participation in elections, Turkey’s continuous 80% turnout rates, regardless of the increase in the total number of voters suggests first-time voters and youths follow the population’s general pattern of high turnout. In Turkey, the importance of young voters has to do with the sheer size of the group and its shifting voting behavior.
Incoming 5 million
According to TURKSTAT data, Turkey hosts close to 5 million citizens comprised between the ages of 14 and 17. By 2023, this entire group will vote, constituting close to 10% of the entire electorate. An additional 40% is made up of students, young adults and young parents between the age of 20 and 44. This massive influx of first-time voters as well as the changing voting behavior of the young will play a determinant role in national elections by 2023.
While we do know younger generations differ markedly from us, very little research has been conducted on their political habits and perspective on the world. But they are not different in the sense that they are addicted to social media. In fact, they have ceased to use Facebook. Politicians eyeing candidacies in 2023 need to understand that their conventional methods will not work with these kids.
There are two reasons why the voting behavior of the young are changing. First, as evidenced by Ayşegül Kayaoğlu in a 2017 paper, economic voting prevails amongst young voters as well. In focus groups we conducted in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Adana and Mersin prior to the March 31 municipal elections confirmed those findings. The focus groups dealing with young adults and young parents revealed their decision-making process is very utilitarian.
Younger generations are keen to vote for whomever they think can deliver even if that entails being at odds with their parents or neighborhood. Until recently, young voters largely voted in line with their parents’ political inclinations. This is no longer the case. Increasingly, young urbanites harbors their own opinions which is reflected in their political preferences.
A whole new demographic
The second reason is the emergence of a new demographic of young people that was not part of the electorate before. Our research shows the rise of a religiously conservative group of young adults, mostly young, educated and urbanized parents. Most live in households in which both spouses are income owners. When asked what kind of schools they wish to send their kids, most opted for prestigious “Science” or “Anatolian” high schools. Seemingly, they want their kids to gain a competitive position in the labor market. Again, they follow the pattern of non-alignment with their parents’ inclinations.
The changes in the voting behavior of the young have already yielded some results in Turkey’s municipal elections of 2019. They were the main component in the swing vote that led to the opposition’s victory in many cities across the country, and in particular in Istanbul.
The main challenge for politicians in the lead up to 2023, will be appealing to first-time and young voters. In a break with the past, political debates will have to revolve around policy issues, rather than purely ideological and political cleavages.
Like all governments around the world, the Turkish government has a number of tough calls to make during this time of public health turned economic crisis. So far, the Turkish government seems to have opted to keep up economic activity as long as it can, before it imposes a total lockdown.
Only one in two people in Turkey are worried about Coronavirus, while close to 20 percent stated that they were “neither worried nor unworried”. More strikingly, despite the warnings only 48 percent do not shake hands while only 49 percent do not kiss when seeing someone.
Amid growing tensions between Turkey and Russia on the Syrian battlefront, we asked respondents to rate the countries and international organizations based on how much they trust them. The bottom line of this story is that Turkish society has lost faith in its allies and neighbors.
The Turkish public is focused on Idlib. Naturally so. The rising number of martyrs and the difficulty to see an definitive end in sight to conflict worries many people. The risk of losing Turkish soldiers is the chief concern by 47.1% among Turkish public. If the heavy Turkish casualties continue to rise, the government might risk losing domestic support.
While one usually knows what people like about their preferred political parties, one tends to be less aware of what voters dislike about their parties. An investigation into this by TurkiyeRaporu.com showed that Turkey's two largest parties also have the most disgruntled base.
The most pressing problem Turkey faces today is unemployment. The main cure for it is an structural improvement of the Turkish economy.
In a country that has more than 50 million registered voters, a single vote does not carry much influence. Yet voter turnout in Turkish elections remains over 80%. So why do Turkish people vote? In fact, fulfilling one's duties as a citizen matters more than having an impact on the election results.
Even though the majority of the society did not conduct an earthquake test, 66.4% of society believes that their home is earthquake resistant. In fact, 43.7% of attendants stated that they believe their homes are earthquake resistant even though they never conducted an earthquake test. Statistics demonstrate that Turkey is not prepared for earthquakes at both an infrastructure and individual level.
Following a significant earthquake and amid a turbulent political conjuncture, Turkey's citizens are worried. Yet rather than politics or economics, people are mostly concerned about their individual security and that of their families.
Speculation regarding the potential of new parties are abound. According to our September 2019 polling across Turkey, the potential for the new parties that would be established by former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former economy chief Ali Babacan stood a little over 17% combined. This number in line with the 15-20% of the electorate who are looking for something new. We will have to wait and see whether the new parties will be able to realize this potential.
As the demands of its electorate have changed, the AKP can no longer resort to ideological polarization. This could allow for shifts in the political landscape.
A nation-wide poll, conducted during the first week of January, showed that 58% of the population is against sending troops to Libya. A breakdown of the result according to party supporters is telling. The AKP base itself is opposed to it and a divergence prevails between the AKP and the MHP bases.
Turkey is now sending military support for the Government of National Accord (GNA) to aid in its fight against General Hafter. The potential benefit of this decision is too distanced from the public life. Particularly, if the mission turns into an operational one, it will be very difficult to explain to the public why we are indeed in Libya.
Turkey is locked into a single issue and it is not the new wave of Turkey bound refugees from Idlib. It is the mega Canal İstanbul project. However, public does not have adequate knowledge of the project according to a recent poll.
Finally, last week, former Prime Minister and chief of foreign policy, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s much anticipated Future Party was inaugurated. Analysts are rushing to deem his party’s chances slim. I see that there is a fundamental flaw in that analysis.
For a long time now, all our polling points to two main sources of dissatisfaction among the public. First is the economy. Second is the Syrian refugees and the Syria policy. Both are policy areas where Mr. Babacan and Mr. Davutoğlu were responsible for at the highest level of public office. It would have been much easier and strategically correct for President Erdoğan to link today’s woes to the wrong doings of the two during when they were in office.
Most recently, an event transpired likely to be seen in scenarios of an absurd comedy piece. With the “pro” votes of MHP and AK Party MPs, the bill postponing the requirement for filtration in thermal power plants, was approved in the parliament. The decision caused an uproar in the opposition ranks but also in a large section of society. Then, something quite unexpected happened; President Erdoğan vetoed the bill. The irony is of course, that the very same law that was tabled by Mr. Erdoğan’s AK Party was vetoed by President Mr. Erdoğan himself.
Last Tuesday, former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Ali Babacan for the first time appeared on national television as an opposition politician. Mr. Babacan did not object when the host of the talk show host suggested he appears as more of a “political organizer” than a “political leader”. It shows that his movement is not organized in the typical political hierarchy that voters are used to see.
A couple of months ago, when three HDP mayors were removed from office, I had predicted that this increased the chances of early elections in the fall of 2020. Looking at the economic sentiment of the house hold, it is safe to say chances for an early elections has slimmed since. Because, right now economy is the number one priority of the Turkish electorate and they are not happy.
According to a latest poll, President Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) appears to have lost 1.2 points of support whereas Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) increased its support by 3.1 points after Turkey's "Operation Peace Spring" in northern Syria.
Day-to-day events and inconsistent messages that have been coming from Turkey's traditional Western partners over the past decade have fostered negative sentiments. Yet the majority of the Turkish public values a long-term partnership with the West.
Since 2015, patterns in voting behavior have been shifting. Poor governance and a stagnant economy are largely behind this change.