Political polarization has increased, and two main political blocks have solidified their base in Turkey the Kadir Has University Turkey Trends research showed, as Turkey seems to have entered the election atmosphere in the eyes of voters.
“Voting bases are consolidating. There was a serious solidification among those who voted for the parties. We see a deep polarization. The positions get clear. It is about election atmosphere,” research coordinator Prof. Dr. Mustafa Aydın stated in an online conference on January 4, where the research group publicized the study.
He added that such consolidation and solidification is visible in election periods.
Kadir Has University Turkey Research Group and Global Academy have been carrying out “Turkey Trends Research” since 2010. For the 2021 report the research group under Aydın’s coordination carried out fieldwork in 26 cities in Turkey with 1000 people between October 23 and November 5.
Aydın noted that the dates predate Turkey’s recent economic turmoil, where significant currency fluctuations, inflation and price hikes dominate the political and social agenda. However, the results are underlying the major issues just as the same.
Political polarization: Alliances solidify
The research finds that ideological and social polarization has increased among the political alliance block in Turkey. The answers to even the most general questions are often evenly split between yes, no and uncertain or just into two.
Accordingly, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) People Alliance with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) votes seem to get close to opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and İYİ Party (Good) Nation Alliance. Aydın noted that if there were an election ahead, the decisive factor would be the votes of the undecided and non-voters which have almost 9 percent share. Two-thirds of this group is from the opposition wing, and the People Alliance base seems stable.
According to the research, the People’s Alliance has 45 percent of the votes, and the Nation Alliance, if Kurdish-issue focused People’s Democracy Party (HDP) is added, has 43 percent of the votes.
According to Aydın, “it is possible to say roughly that the votes of the opposition and the government are equal to each other.”
“Two-thirds of those who say they will not vote or undecided are on the side of the opposition bloc. When these are distributed according to their ratios, the final result is AKP 37 percent, CHP 28.4 percent, and other parties are above the threshold. If we look at the totals over these figures, the People’s Alliance is 49 percent, the Nation Alliance is 38.6 percent. Nation Alliance reaches 48.2 when HDP is added. When parties such as the Felicity Party (SP), Homeland Party (Vatan), and the Great Unity Party (BBP) are added to different blocs, a head-to-head situation occurs around 49 percent,” Aydın said.
AKP-MHP stable, opposition to play on swing votes
In the meeting, the researchers point to a diagram where researchers classified the answers given to all the questions by people who voted for or sympathized with a party. They tried to reveal the closeness of the parties to each other and their place on the political scale.
It is seen that the participants who voted for the MHP and AKP alliance were close to each other both ideologically and in terms of lifestyle. And they are stable on the issue. Other parties appear opposed to the AKP-MHP block, but they show more diverged positions in the political scale, tendencies and their relation to each other.
“The AKP and MHP wing stand very close to each other. It’s not just voting. Also, their lifestyle, stance, views on policies, management system etc. a similar block in everything. In this, the AKP vote is 80 percent. On the other hand, the opposition side spreads over a dispersed area and differentiates itself. It is a situation that makes it difficult to make policies for the opposition. The ruling wing may give the same message, but it is difficult for the opposition,” Aydın said.
He added that economic developments might be effective in any change in AKP-MHP bloc. Still, the undecided group of 9 percent is more open to the influence of the opposition’s discourse.
“It shows the need of the opposition to consolidate its own base rather than playing on the ruling block. The situation of the undecided will be the main struggle, and the struggle over identities seems to affect the election result,” he added.
Presidential government system dwelled on Turkey’s politics
The presidential government system, which came into force in 2017 with the constitutional amendment, seems to have taken its place in the political orientation of Turkey’s voters. While the opposition parties are working to return to the parliamentary system in the parliament, the base seems to add the presidential system within their political repertoire.
In the answers given to the question “Do you find this system successful,” the country is divided into three, and the polarization seems to be getting sharper: 40-33-26 percent, yes, neither yes-no, no respectively.
Research data points to a 49 percent parity between alliances, but 55-56 percent say they prefer the presidential government system while 44 percent say they prefer parliamentary democracy. Even in the opposition, 24 percent in the CHP and 26 percent in the İYİ Party positively regard the presidential government system.
Aydın thinks that this support within the opposition is an essential indicator for the six parties working on “returning to the new parliamentary system” within the parliament. “If the CHP and IYI Party will emphasize a return to the parliamentary system, it seems they need to tell their base about it,” Aydın says.
In the evaluations on administrative statements, the rate of those who think that the democratic political system will be good for governing Turkey has decreased from 60 percent in 2020 to 55 percent this year. The proportion of those who think it would be best to have a strong leader who does not have to deal with parliament and elections has increased from 46 percent in 2020 to 51 percent in 2021.
There is a small decrease in the rate of finding President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan successful. It was 42 in 2019, 39 in 2021. The rate of finding AKP successful has been increasing since 2019. MHP also has a 12 percent increase. Opposition parties, on the other hand, show a decline. In general, the success rate in evaluating government policies is 40 percent. Despite all the complaints about the economy, there is no significant change in general. There has been a slight upward momentum over the last three years for the ruling block.
The characteristics of a candidate
For the participants, the prominent characteristic of the ideal president is to have a successful political background. While abstract concepts such as “being honest and moral” were at the forefront in previous years, this year’s answer focused on political knowledge and management experience.
Another interesting finding is that AKP voters seem unwilling to see the current Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu as Erdoğan’s opponent if there will be a second round in the election process. Aydın interpreted this as İmamoğlu being perceived as a strong candidate against Erdoğan by ruling voters.
In the opposition, the IYI Party voters want their leader to be a candidate. No one stands out among Kılıçdaroğlu, Yavaş and İmamoğlu within CHP voters.
Turkey: Conservative, Nationalist and Kemalist
When asked to define themselves, participants are grouped into 5 main political concepts: Conservative, Nationalist, Kemalist, Social Democrat and Political İslamist.
While 13 percent of those were calling themselves conservative in 2018, this rate rose to 22.5 percent in 2021. Nationalism has remained almost the same, with a slight decline to conservatism. While Kemalism was 10 percent in 2020, it nearly doubled to 19 percent in 2021. There is a decrease in social democrats and apoliticals.
Turkey’s most crucial problem: Economy
In the 2021 report, the participants describe Turkey’s biggest problem as economy. Participants named the second main problem area as refugees. Unlike last year, the coronavirus remained in the third. Limitation of rights and freedoms and the fight against terrorism follow these problems.
Different regions highlight different problems. Refugees rank first in the East and Southeast, coronavirus in Marmara and Aegean; economy in Central Anatolia and Mediterranean and Terrorism in the Black Sea. By going from west to east, three groups appear: corona, economy and refugees.
The economic data in the research show that financial difficulties come to the fore. The rate of those who said they could not support their family increased from 51 percent to 57 percent in one year. Only 30 percent say they are better off economically. There is a small group who say they can save, 75 percent say they can’t. Only 5 percent can make saving.
Interest rates are the problem
For the first time, high-interest rates were named first as the main cause of economic difficulties. People listed increased inflation, price increases in food products and decrease in the value of TRY as the main problems.
According to Aydın, high interest rates being quoted for the first time “shows that the rhetoric of the government on this issue has been adopted by its own audience.”
One of the academic experts of the research, Prof. Dr. Osman Zaim said that “In the fight against corona in 2020, the government chose to give credit(to support people) instead of direct aids. People had easy access to credits, but it was not cheap. When the research began on October 23, the payback period had arrived. Some had a lot of debt and whose payment dates were due.”
According to Prof. Dr. Erinç Yeldan, “Interest rate is a politicized issue. We are a politicized society, where Erdogan’s words find a place in a political attitude. The economy is important, but its programming is based on loyalty.”
Refugees: part of the polarization
According to the research, 68.9 percent are discontent with the presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey. As the reason for dissatisfaction, they quote “They are increasing unemployment due to cheap illegal labor” “They become a problem due to their inclination towards crime” or “They are consuming the scarce resource of Turkey”
Seeing refugees as a problem besides the economy can be interpreted as interrelated. According to Prof. Dr. Zaim, “In countries with bad economies, there is a need to search for a common enemy. Migrants and refugees and external financial attacks are emerging as the main culprits in Turkey.”
In addition to seeing refugees as a problem, social polarization is also increasing. The answers to the questions of not wanting to be neighbors with someone who is not one’s own and not wanting to get married to someone different are increasing. There is a need to separate from the one who is different from oneself and there is an increase in social polarization. The segregation in different social identities has also become clear. The ranking has not changed in the last 3 years, but 61 percent of those who say they don’t want LGBTI+ neighbors follows, refugees.
You can get the details of the report from this link: “Turkey Trends Survey 2021”