The former half of the past two decades of politics in Turkey was marred by polarization. The division between secularists and religious conservatives acted as the main political cleavage. While this division is age-old, it became a salient driver of voting behavior two decades ago when politicians began to use it recklessly to their advantage.
While the Justice and Development Party (AKP) benefited from it the most, this division is also attributable to the main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) – at least between 2002 and 2011.
Broadly speaking, there were two reasons why it worked so well. The first reason has to do with the history of power in Turkish politics. The most fundamental issue in politics is the allocation of resources which inevitable generates winners and losers.
For a long time, Turkey’s religiously conservative population were the losers. That was the case when the AKP came to power in 2002. Upon its victory, the AKP followed up on its promise to reverse their misfortune and succeeded in gaining a loyal base that would not even consider lending support to alternative parties. And certainly not to secularist-leftist ones.
During the first half of the past two decades, the AKP delivered on its promise. It managed to bring this electoral base to the centre of the “system.” At the same time,Turkey also significantly raised its income per capita.
While economists pointed to the accumulation of much debt to fuel this growth, it irrevocably changed consumption patterns for the majority of people. What is more, public services improved a great deal, particularly in the area of health and through digitization, it became easier for people to reach government offices.
The AKP also delivered on its promises regarding personal liberties. The most iconic move had to do with a decision to allow veiled women to enter universities. As a result, a new electoral group emerged that is no longer an outsider to the system. Yet this group has now started regressing from their improved position.
Now that this group has gained and grown accustomed to its new consumption habits and public service deliveries, it will be difficult to uphold their loyalty by resorting solely to ideological divides. That explains the emergence of new political parties that champion liberal values whilst catering to the conservative base of the AKP.
The second reason why polarization was so fruitful was the nature of Turkey’s political system. Without the ex-ante political alliances between parties that now enable small parties to pass the 10% threshold and secure seats at the parliament, the AKP managed to form single party governments with 40% of the popular vote. Not only does the AKP now needs a partner – the ultra-nationalist MHP – to secure a majority in the parliament, but President Erdoğan also needs more than 50% of the vote to get re-elected in 2023. Our latest polling, conducted during the first week of January on TurkiyeRaporu.com projects the share of the “People’s Alliance” – the AKP and MHP coalition – to be less than 50%.
At this stage, the AKP can longer resort to ideological polarization. The demanded has changed. And ironically, that came as a result of AKP policies. Meanwhile, the opposition has skillfully refrained from language that would intimidate the AKP base. The opposition’s success during the municipal elections of March 2019 is much-owed to candidates that adopted a mild tone in their campaigns.
All this points to the demand for a new way of doing politics in Turkey. This could happen through two channels. The existing actors could reinvent themselves to offer something fresh and new to the electorate. This is a rare occurrence. Alternatively, new actors could enter the political arena and offer their narrative. It no coincidence new actors are emerging on all sides of the political spectrum.
The move by the government to freeze the donation accounts of municipalities will not benefit anyone.It is not the public that is getting polarized, it is the politics. And those who polarize will lose this race.
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.
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.
In Turkey and across the world, the voting behavior of the young is changing. 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.
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.