Turkish politicians turn to social media campaigns to attract young votes

According to the Supreme Board of Elections (YSK), approximately five million people will vote for the first time on May 14. Turkish politicians have been shifting their election campaigns from the street to social media, rallies are being replaced by videos and written messages that aim to get closer to or entertain the younger generations.

From left to right: CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, his ally Mustafa Sarıgül, Homeland Party leader Muharrem İnce

Duvar English

As the countdown to the May 14 Presidential and Parliamentary General Elections continues, preferences of young people, especially those who will vote for the first time, has been on the agenda of politicians in Turkey. 

BBC Turkey investigated the information channels of younger generations, how they formulate their political preferences, and how influential social media is in their decision-making process.

According to the Reuters Institute's Digital News Report 2022, which surveyed 93,000 people in 46 countries, including Turkey, young people aged 18-24 consume news mostly through social media platforms, with only 23 percent using news apps or websites.

The study stated that social media has overtaken television as a news source for the first time in Turkey, while many young people are moving away from Facebook to YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

During this election campaign, Turkish politicians have begun to shift their campaigns from streets to social media. Posters, musical election vehicles, and rallies have begun to be replaced by videos and written messages aiming to be sincere or entertaining for the younger generation.

The main opposition bloc’s Nation Alliance's presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's speeches shot from the kitchen of his home, the viral dance of the Homeland Party's presidential candidate Muharrem İnce, Twitter floods of jailed Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, and funny TikTok videos of the leader of the Party for Change in Turkey (TDP), Mustafa Sarıgül, where he shouts after hearing expensive food items are just few examples. 

The Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) stated that approximately five million people will vote for the first time on May 14. Also, almost one out of every three people who will vote is a young voter due to young demographic of the country.

According to a report prepared by the Social, Economic and Political Research Foundation of Turkey (TÜSES), the youth who will vote for the first time are most concentrated in the Southeastern Anatolia Region that host the biggest Kurdish population. 

Political Science professor Tuğçe Erçetin underlined that there is no homogeneous young voting base and says that despite commonalities such as unemployment, there are groups that differ regionally on issues such as identity and education in mother language.

Erçetin said that scenarios such as young people’s tendency to vote for more extreme politicians will be more unrealistic. For a while, far-right Victory Party has became popular in the social media with its anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Journalist Önder Abay, who has been following TikTok for a long time, did not find politicians' strategy of using social media platforms very effective. Abay believes that each platform has its own approach, discourse, and tone and that a separate strategy should be developed for each of them. A single communication package would not be successful. 

Each smartphone became personalized rallying ground in the election campaigns. Shortly before the elections, Kılıçdaroğlu created a TikTok account and gathered 500,000 followers. He has been occasionaly sharing videos produced for only TikTok platform.

His wife Selvi Kılıçdaroğlu also created a Twitter account and has shared her personal messages to a growing number of followers. 

Abay said that people are now showing their faces, homes and social worlds on TikTok and expressing their complaints about issues such as the economic crisis and earthquakes without fear. He also noted that there is a shift from Erdoğan, who has been popular on the platform for a long time, to Kılıçdaroğlu. 

The platform is is heavily used by conservative housewives which is one of the strongholds of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

TikTok also became a place for the earthquake-victims after the Feb. 6 earthquakes, where they explained their painful experince during and after the disaster.