Many Turkish media outlets have published poll results showing presidential candidate Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan way ahead of his competitors, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Selahattin Demirtaş, but this week’s guest for Monday Talk says that the poll results so far are manipulative and deceptive.
“Most of the [polling] companies have direct or indirect ties to the ruling party. In an environment in which the candidates have just been announced, it is quite manipulative to distribute the percentages of undecided and protest votes. It is deception,” said Özer Sencar, president of Ankara-based MetroPOLL, which conducted its latest public opinion survey in 28 provinces between June 26-30.
Sencar also said that Prime Minister Erdoğan is in an advantageous position as he uses all public resources to his own favor. “However, the presidency is not a done deal for Tayyip Erdoğan. I am sure he does not see the presidency as guaranteed, and that’s why he is working flat out to get it,” he said.
According to MetroPOLL’s survey, 42.2 percent of people say that they will vote for Erdoğan; 32.9 percent say that they will vote for İhsanoğlu, and 6.7 percent say that they will vote for Demirtaş. And there is a significant amount of voters — 11.9 percent — who say that they will not vote at all. Additionally, 6.3 percent of the voters say that they have no idea about who they will vote for.
Answering our questions in İstanbul, Sencar elaborates on the issue.
In your May poll, you asked whether people want a president free of political party ties or not, and your survey showed that 62 percent of the public wants a neutral president free of political party ties. Even 40 percent of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) voters want a president without a party identity. Has this trend continued?
In our latest survey, the percentage of people who want a president with political party ties increased from 31 to 37 percent. On the other hand, the percentage of people who would like to see a president free of political party ties decreased from 62 to 56 percent. So, after the announcement of the candidacy of Prime Minister Erdoğan, AK Party voters have been of the opinion that the candidate should be tied to a party. However, 56 percent of all voters, and 32 percent of AK Party voters, still would like to see a president free of political party ties. We should note that this result expresses a wish, not actual voting behavior. In other words, a preference for a president free of party ties or not is not the only determinant for voters making their choices.
How would you evaluate the candidates?
We knew that Prime Minister Erdoğan would be a candidate. And Selahattin Demirtaş [from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)] is the other candidate with a party identity. Demirtaş is a sympathetic, intelligent and brave candidate who seems likely to get votes from the left — and he could gather the votes of others were he not a Kurd. The third candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, is a candidate without a party identity. He is probably the best alternative that the joint Republican People’s Party (CHP)-Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) opposition could find. He is also an intelligent and respectable candidate who is not far ideologically from the MHP and he could also get votes of AK Party voters. So far, our survey results show that he can currently gather only about 4 percent of the vote from AK party voters, and it is not enough — it should be at least 5 or 6 percent. As a result, we have three strong candidates.
‘People do not yet know İhsanoğlu’
How could Demirtaş’s candidacy influence voting?
Kurdish people have a high political intelligence in Turkey. And I think Abdullah Öcalan [the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)] has very high political intelligence, too. The fact that they have a candidate is an intelligent choice because if they did not have a candidate, it would seem like Erdoğan is the candidate of the Kurds, too. Now, Kurds can be free from allegations that they supported Erdoğan in the first round of voting. It is likely that Erdoğan will not be elected in the first round if Demirtaş garners about 7 percent of the vote. It is likely that we will have a second round in the presidential election. In addition, Kurds will have a better chance to negotiate with Erdoğan because the election result will show that he cannot be elected without the Kurds; plus, the HDP will have a chance to be a party of all Turkey, instead of just being the party of the Kurds.
Do you think CHP could field a joint candidate with the Kurds?
It would not be possible for either the MHP or the CHP to collaborate with the Kurds because of long-standing historical reasons. There is only one public figure from the CHP who could have been accepted by the Kurds, and this person is Rıza Türmen [who formerly served as a judge with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)]. Could he get votes from both the CHP and Kurdish voters if the CHP declared him as the joint candidate of the CHP and the HDP? Not likely. Could he get votes from MHP voters? No. Could he get votes from AK Party voters? No. It is important to note that voters need to trust a candidate in order to vote for him, and before trusting him, you need to know him. Tayyip Erdoğan and Selahattin Demirtaş do not have such a problem. Their voters know them. However, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu is not well-known to voters.
What does your poll show about recognition of İhsanoğlu?
He is a new political actor. We did our survey on June 26, after his name was announced on June 16. We saw that İhsanoğlu was known only by about 32 percent of society, with 62 percent of people saying that they did not know him at all. His team needs to work hard on public recognition.
‘İhsanoğlu the opposite of Erdoğan’
What do people who know him say in the survey when you ask if they will vote for him?
People who know him favor him more than Erdoğan, and people who do not know him also have a strong interest in his candidacy. If İhsanoğlu has more public recognition — like 50 percent — he is likely to gather more votes, too.
Who knows İhsanoğlu well?
Intellectuals, high-level bureaucrats and some İstanbulites know him. People from Anatolia do not know him.
İhsanoğlu is known to be a conservative, right?
More than 25 percent of people in the survey think that he is conservative. İhsanoğlu also says that he is a conservative. That’s why the CHP and the MHP decided to field him as their candidate; their goal is to attract the votes of AK Party supporters too. Thirty-two percent of AK Party voters in the survey say that he is a conservative and 12 percent think that he is from the AK Party. Looking at Erdoğan, we know that he comes from a background of political Islam. He is a person who also says that he does not like nationalism. He has never said anything in praise of [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk. He does what he says and he does not censure his views. İhsanoğlu has a conservative background due to his conservative Islamic father, and he respects Islamic rituals. I did my military service with İhsanoğlu 40 years ago and I saw him coming to prayers with us. However, I have never seen a political Islamist tendency in him. He is religious and conservative, but his secular and modern sides come first, and he says that.
Some people from the CHP do not favor him saying that İhsanoğlu went to an Islamic university in Egypt.
He went to Al-Azhar University, which is a center of Islamic learning. In Egypt, professors tend to get along well with the regime. It is unlikely that Al-Azhar University professors are political Islamists; they are likely to be closer to secularists. It is also quite telling to look at the families of both İhsanoğlu and Erdoğan. You see a modern family on one hand [İhsanoğlu], and an Islamic one on the other [Erdoğan]. It would be quite wrong to compare Erdoğan and İhsanoğlu. If CHP voters cannot see this, they lack strategic vision. İhsanoğlu is not using the language or political jargon that everyone expects. He uses academic and elite language. He does not use opportunistic rhetoric. He is the opposite of Erdoğan.
‘Many undecided voters expected to change views’
When you asked people which candidate they are going to vote for in the presidential election, what did you hear?
The survey showed that 42.2 percent said they are going to vote for Erdoğan; 32.9 percent said they are going to vote for İhsanoğlu; and 6.7 percent said they are going to vote for Demirtaş. There is a significant amount of voters — 11.9 percent of the people polled, roughly estimated to be 6 percent of the general public — who said they are not going to vote at all. If they do not vote, they will guarantee a win for Erdoğan. In addition, 6.3 percent of the people polled said they had no idea who they are going to choose. If all those people vote, their choices will significantly influence the result. We should note that the maximum amount of votes that the CHP and the MHP can get is 43 percent each.
In the media, poll results show that Erdoğan is going to gain more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round, and thus he will be elected president. What is your evaluation of those results?
I’ve seen those newspaper results showing some polling companies’ estimates that Erdoğan will be elected president in the first round of the voting with 51-58 percent of the votes. Our poll shows that he has 42 percent of the vote. It seems like the other polling companies unfairly distribute the percentages of voters that are undecided or have abstained at this early stage to suit their agendas. Most of those companies have direct or indirect ties to the ruling party. We have just announced the candidates, so it is manipulative to distribute the percentages of voters who are undecided or who have abstained. It is deception. It is obvious that people who do not know İhsanoğlu well enough would be undecided or would abstain at this point. We do this kind of distribution when we are close to the election, when the percentage of undecided voters is minimal. I do not wish to be modest here; I can confidently say there are few polling companies that present results fairly. That is not to say they do not know how to conduct research; they do, but they manipulate the public with their results. On the other hand, we present the survey results as they are.
‘How much of Kurdish vote will go to Erdoğan?’
Will you publish your poll results?
We distribute our results to our subscribers first and then we share some of our results with the media. In the past two or three years, pro-AK Party media have not published our data at all. Over the past 10 years, Zaman has not been using our data.
Probably because our data does not seem to be in favor of the AK Party. Our data has been favored mostly by Today’s Zaman and Radikal. When we give our data to pro-CHP media outlets, we see that they tend to use the information as a weapon against the AK Party. And this hurts our company; that’s why I do not like to give them our data. Therefore, our polling results are not likely to find much space in the media. I try to use social media to share our results.
What do you expect in regards to how people’s choices might change?
Looking at the current survey results, if Demirtaş gets 6 to 7 percent of the vote or a little more, and if the abstained votes — 15 percent each in the CHP and MHP — can be effectively channeled by the CHP and the MHP, no candidate will be elected in the first round. In the second round, most Kurds are likely to vote for Erdoğan. Therefore, three factors will determine the fate of the election: how much of the Kurdish vote will go to Erdoğan; how many votes İhsanoğlu will be able to gather from the AK Party’s base; and the CHP and the MHP’ ability to convince their voters to choose İhsanoğlu. If İhsanoğlu gets five points from the AK Party’s base, he has a good chance of being elected. So, we will see how conditions will change.
Your poll also shows that AK Party voters have been losing trust in Erdoğan. Do you expect a decrease in Erdoğan’s support because of this?
The AK Party’s loyal supporters constituted 36 percent of the total voting population in 2013, and 39 percent in 2014. Therefore, the AK Party has a support base of 40 percent to rely on. However, İhsanoğlu can gather votes from the AK Party’s base. We will see if he and the parties supporting him will be able to achieve that. We will also see how much support the media will put behind İhsanoğlu. Erdoğan has an advantageous position because he can use public resources, but he cannot take that for granted. I am sure he does not see his presidency as guaranteed, and that’s why he is working with all his power to get it. There are signs that Erdoğan and Kurds are losing trust for each other. This was clear in Demirtaş’ words. Since the presidency is not a done deal for Erdoğan, some polling companies have tried to manipulate the public by demoralizing them and projecting the idea that Erdoğan already has 50 percent of the vote. Columnist Fatih Altaylı recently wrote that Erdoğan will get 58 percent of the vote. That is an exaggeration.
‘Turkish foreign policy steadily loses public support’
Your poll also presents insight into the public’s views on the government’s foreign policies. What can you highlight for us?
We found that 71 percent in 2011 found the government’s foreign policies to be successful. This figure dropped to 55 percent in 2012, 44 percent in 2013 and 41 percent in June 2014. On the other hand, 19 percent in 2011 found the government’s foreign policies to be unsuccessful. This figure increased to 28 percent in 2012, 47 percent in 2013 and 51 percent in June 2014. A significant number of AK Party voters found the government’s foreign policy unfavorable. The most important reason behind that is the government’s policy toward Syria and Iraq. A total of 58 percent find the government’s policy regarding Iraq unsuccessful; 30 percent of AK Party voters say the same. With regard to Syria, 61 percent find the policies not successful while 33 percent of the AK Party voters say the same.
What are people’s views on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)?
When we asked people if they think ISIL, which operates in Iraq and Syria, is a terrorist organization, 71 percent of people say they see it as a terrorist organization; 63 percent of the AK Party voters do, too. Forty-four percent perceive Turkey to be helping ISIL, while 30 percent said Turkey does not support ISIL. Among AK Party supporters, 20 percent say Turkey provides support to ISIL, which is currently holding hostage a number of Turkish diplomats in Iraq.
Owner of the Ankara-based MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center, Sencar has been conducting social and political research for the last 10 years. From 1970 to 2000, he held various positions at Atatürk University, Republic University and Gaziosmanpaşa University, including administrative positions such as dean and deputy rector.