The times we live are highly polarized. This benefits politicians. As long as they gain enough votes to secure their political success, they uphold this polarization. Especially since the referendum on constitutional change in 2016, Turkish society has been split in half. Supporters of both the government or the opposition follow the party line, whatever the issue.
On rare occasions, however, there are issues over which the majority of the population converges. Turkey's plan to send troops to Libya is one of them. Our poll at turkiyeraporu.com shows that more than half the population is against this. The 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 provides further insights. Ever since it teamed up with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under the banner of the " People's Alliance" (Cumhur İttifakı), The Nationalist Action Party (MHP) has handed unequivocal support to government policy, which was welcomed by its base. Yet on Libya, MHP supporters diverge from the party line, our poll revealed. 6 in 10 respondents that identified themselves as MHP supporters reported that they were against Turkey sending troops to Libya. On the other hand, 1 in 3 AK Party supporters were opposed to it.
Two lessons should be drawn from these results. First, even the AK Party base is not convinced and second, a divergence has arisen between the two party bases. When it comes to military issues, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli stands firm. It is unlikely that these results, will cause a shift in his stance. Yet Bahçeli's base might turn sour if the role of the Turkish military shift from an advisory role to an operational role that suffers inevitable casualties.
The sentiment over sending troops to Libya is in fact the manifestation of a broader public demand regarding foreign policy. While the people support the idea of playing a greater regional and global role as a country, it appears they would prefer the government to go about it differently.
In the same poll, we asked what kind of a role they would like see Turkey play in the region's conflicts. An overwhelming 75% indicated they would rather have Turkey retain an equal distance from all sides of conflicts and act as a peacemaker. Only 15% indicated Turkey should pick a side in conflicts and provide political and military support. 10% had no comment on the issue. Finally, we asked the respondents whom they thought was the most successful foreign minister in the past 20 years. The first two among AKP ministers were Abdullah Gül and Ali Babacan, whereas the last two were Ahmet Davutoğlu and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, respectively (two other AK Party ministers Yaşar Yakış and Feridun Sinirlioğlu served very brief stints). Those different results point to a clear conclusion: the Turkish public prefers an active but non-aggressive foreign policy.
Research has shown that, aside from outliers, foreign policy does not determine election outcomes. The logic holds that, because candidates are vague on foreign policy issues, voters cannot really distinguish positions. This is not the case in Turkey today. Both the opposition and the government are very specific and clash with regards to their respective foreign policy stances.
Turkey is seeking stability in Libya, if successful the government will not face much of an electoral fall out. If, conversely, Turkey gets mired in a protracted conflict, then the Libyan affair is likely to be costly.