Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 90

Turks are becoming increasingly pessimistic and introspective according to a recent survey by the A & G research company, which was published in Milliyet (May 9-10).

The survey, which was conducted on April 26 and 27 in 33 provinces across the country, found that only 19.8 percent of respondents were optimistic about the prospects for their children in Turkey, while 52.6 percent were pessimistic. The remaining 27.6 percent wanted their children to leave Turkey altogether and live abroad.

The A & G survey also underlined the continuing decline in public enthusiasm for EU membership. In the years preceding the opening of official accession negotiations in October 2005, opinion polls suggested that over 70 percent of the Turkish population favored EU membership, not least because they believed that it would raise living standards and improve social and political stability. In recent years, however, the EU accession process has become stalled over Turkey’s reluctance to implement further democratizing reforms and its refusal to honor an undertaking to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes. Increasing disillusion with the EU process inside Turkey has been exacerbated by an increase in opposition to Turkish accession in several key member states. The A & G survey suggested that only 24.9 percent of Turks believed that the EU was the answer to the country’s social and economic problems; 12.2 percent thought that the solution lay in Turkey forming an alternative to the EU with countries in Asia; 55 percent were of the opinion that Turkey could solve its social and economic problems by itself; and the remaining 7.9 percent either did not reply or were undecided.

Worryingly for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the A & G survey reinforced the findings of other opinion polls, which had suggested that the government’s heavy-handed attempts to abolish the headscarf ban in Turkish universities (see EDM, February 11) and the subsequent case filed for the party’s closure (see EDM, April 1) have undermined its popular support. When asked how they would vote if a general election were to be held immediately, only 31.4 percent said that they would support the AKP, down from 46.6 percent in the last general election in July 2007. However, recent events appear to have shaken voters’ confidence in the AKP rather than persuaded them to switch their allegiance to another party. Of those questioned 24.7 percent either failed to reply or said that they were undecided. Only 17.1 percent indicated that they would vote for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which received 20.9 percent in the July 2007 election. Another 13.5 percent said that they would support the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), down slightly from 14.3 percent in July 2007. The remaining 13.3 percent indicated that they would vote for minor parties.

With those who were undecided or failed to reply removed from the calculations, the AKP received 41.7 percent, down from 44.6 percent and 54.2 percent in previous A & G polls on April 5 and 6 and in January, respectively. The latest A & G figure is very close to the 41.1 percent support for the AKP in a survey conducted by the Center for Social Research (ANDY-AR) from April 8 to 21 (see EDM, May 1).

There was considerably less movement in the levels of support for the CHP and MHP. When those who were undecided or failed to reply were excluded, the latest A & G survey suggested that 22.7 percent of the electorate would vote for the CHP, compared with 20.8 percent and 18.7 percent in the A & G surveys in April and January. Support for the MHP stood at 17.9 percent, compared with 17.8 percent and 15.2 percent in the previous A & G polls.

The latest A & G survey also revealed deep divisions in Turkish society over the future of secularism. A total of 84 percent of those who had indicated that they would vote for the CHP said that they were concerned that secularism was in danger, while another 11.6 percent said that they were somewhat concerned. For MHP voters, the figures were 61.7 percent and 15.2 percent, respectively. Only 5.2 percent of AKP supporters were concerned that secularism was in danger and 4.9 percent somewhat concerned. A total of 83.7 percent said that there was no danger whatsoever while 6.2 percent either did not reply or were undecided.

Of the 24.7 percent of respondents who were undecided about which party to vote for, 33.4 percent were concerned that secularism was in danger and 16.2 percent somewhat concerned; 26.2 percent did not believe that secularism was under threat, while 23.8 percent either did not reply or were undecided.

Although they have improved in recent years, opinion polls in Turkey have often proved unreliable. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the results of the A & G survey would appear to suggest that the AKP has been damaged by its attempts to lift the headscarf ban and the subsequent court case for its closure. Privately, some AKP officials have advocated bolstering its defense in the closure case by calling an early election, in the expectation that the party would be returned to power with an increased majority. However, although few doubt that the AKP would win any early election, the results of the latest A & G survey suggest that it could turn into a Pyrrhic victory and leave the party with a considerably reduced parliamentary majority (Milliyet, May 9-10, Vatan, May 11, A & G website, www.agarastirma.com.tr).