My comment: Turkish voters gloomy, but less confused before local polls

My take on voter patterns before March 30 local elections:

With the pulse of Turkey intensifying, the country is moving ahead to a de facto referendum on March 30. No doubt this will be an election during which voters will cast judgment on whether or not Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is still a reliable leader and fit to rule the country. He himself declared that these are the most crucial polls of the past 11 years of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule — a make or break moment.
The nation is tense, unsatisfied, confused, insecure, divided and polarized. The campaigns have been marked by allegations of vast corruption, severe administrative sanctions (purges) within the state apparatus, the erosion of the separation of powers, further weakening of rule of law and the curbing of fundamental freedoms like those of speech and assembly.

Audio recording leaks have so far revealed that Erdoğan is now allegedly involved in crimes against the constitution; he confessed that he not only interfered in the editorial independence of the media, but he also admitted to interfering in judicial proceedings and public bids. It is obvious that we are headed toward an election in a poisonous social climate, where the prime minister is openly challenging the very fundaments of a democratic system, promoting open impunity.

What is the mindset of the voter, then? In Turkey, it has always been a challenge to find reliable pollsters. At the moment, there are two of them that stand out: KONDA polling company and MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center. Previously, these two seemed to often agree in their broad estimations. But nowadays, even they are divided. KONDA predicts AKP support to be in between 46-49 percent, and MetroPOLL predicts it will be between 36-42 percent.

But there is much more to observe in the tense social atmosphere. MetroPOLL has been taking the pulse of the country regularly, and it was the one that detected a fall in the AKP support — down to 35 percent — during the Gezi protests. It saw a recovery in the following months — by 8 percentage points — due to Erdoğan’s successful public communication strategies.

The latest survey by MetroPOLL is a result of responses given in the week of Feb. 19-23, namely before all the audio recordings between Erdoğan and his son Bilal were leaked to the public. So, although these results might still need updating, its data is crucial to add to the understanding of the changes in the public’s mindset.

Let me analyze some talking points:

Quo vadis, Turkey?: In the last two months, Turkish people have been at their most pessimistic since 2002. Fifty-four percent of them think things are going badly. Forty-three percent mentioned they are pessimistic about the future. Fifty-one percent expect an economic crisis.

Corruption:The overall opinion about corruption and the “coup” theory has crystallized. Thirty-seven percent of people believe that the developments taking place in Turkey are about graft and 28 percent think they are a coup attempt. But a portion of the AKP’s supporters, up to 40 percent, believe there was also corruption behind the investigation that went public on Dec. 17. Also, the last two months show that Erdoğan was not as successful in turning the public opinion to his favor as he was during Gezi; this time, only a slight increase this time was noted (around 1  percent).

Pressure on the police, judiciary and media:More than half of the public, 58-59 percent, believe that the police, judiciary and media have been subjected to pressure. There is a big increase (by 15 percentage points since December 2012) among those who believe that the freedom of expression has been restricted. Those who believe that “democracy is weaker,” up to 48 percent of people, has risen by 100 percent since December 2012. Fifty percent of people had hoped President Abdullah Gül would veto the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) law.

Gül and Gülen:The survey notes a considerable loss for both. Support for Gül is at an all-time low. The number of those who say they will vote for him is down to 47 percent, a sharp fall from 67-70 percent over the past two years. Regarding the Hizmet movement, inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, there has been a loss in support of 8 percentage points in a month. Sixty-eight percent of people view the movement negatively, compared to 15 percent who view it positively. Negative perceptions of the movement are between 60-80 percent among the four big party voters. Both key figures have lost some popularity, according to the MetroPOLL.

Without factoring in those who are still undecided, the votes as of mid-February look like this: the AKP has 36.9 percent, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has 27.4 percent, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has 14.8 percent and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has 7.3 percent.  The key finding in this survey is the undecided shift, mainly toward the CHP and MHP.

My rough conclusion:Even if the AKP gets 40 percent of the overall vote, the loss of İstanbul and/or Ankara will speed up the dynamics for change in politics inside as well as outside the AKP.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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