Populist leaders are like addicts. Their addiction is to the massive popular support they have. It’s not just a choice for them, it’s a necessity. Especially for a leader like Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who always mentions election results and the support he gets from the Turkish public as the sole source of his legitimacy, approval ratings tend to be crucial.

According to the latest polls conducted by Metropoll polling company, the approval rating of Mr. Erdoğan has dropped to 42 points. That is the lowest in almost two years. We have seen his approval ratings drop to about 37 percent around the June 2015 elections. The result of those elections was a benchmark. AKP was not able to form a government alone. Erdoğan, as a political animal, first wasted the opposition’s time with unending talks conducted by the AKP leader at the time, Ahmet Davutoğlu. Then, because a coalition government wasn’t able to formed, he led the country to another election in November. However, leading up to that November —as a twist of faith, we guess! — horrible things happened. The peace process officially ended. A truck carrying help to Kobane from Suruç was bombed by ISIS. Two policemen were killed in Ceylanpınar. It was like all hell broke loose. There were attacks here and there and Davutoğlu, then prime minister, ordered military operations against the PKK and ISIS. ISIS orchestrated a bomb attack in Ankara and 102 people died. The government claimed this was a cocktail terror attack conducted both by PKK and ISIS in cooperation. It was the worst of times indeed. After this very dark period, Turkey went to the polls again and AKP was able to win a majority and form a government alone.

When there are wars going on, or systematic terror attacks, people tend to turn to the leader they know. They quit searching for alternatives and go to their safe harbor. Chaos worked for Erdoğan. However, Erdoğan’s approval ratings tend to fall when terror attacks or wars halt and people start worrying about the economy. According to Metropoll, the last time Erdoğan’s approval rating was higher than 50 percent was 2018; the economy seems to be taking its toll on Erdoğan. The only time his approval rating got a bit closer to 50 percent was when the Turkish army conducted ‘Operation Peace Spring’ in Syria. However, the effect from that did not last long. The operation was only two years ago but has been all but forgotten by voters. Rising food and energy prices are making life harder for Turks. Back in February 2019, Erdoğan got angry about people complaining about rising food prices, and in one of his rallies he yelled, “Do you know how much a bullet costs?” in reference to the costly operations Turkey was conducting in Syria. Well, yes, bullets cost a lot, and Turkish voters seem to enjoy playing the revival of the Ottomans once in a while — until it starts making daily life miserable.

According to the poll, 8.8 percent of AKP voters say they do not approve of Erdoğan’s policies and 2.3 percent chose not to respond. 29.2 percent of voters for MHP (Erdoğan’s nationalist ally) say they do not approve of Erdoğan while 8.6 percent chose to remain silent. 

Technically an election isn’t approaching in the near future. However, just like most populist leaders, Erdoğan’s regime stands on popular support. It seems he needs to take another rabbit out of the hat. We will all witness soon what that will be.