Runoff election in Turkey: who actually votes for Erdogan?

Istanbul Voting in the runoff election for the presidency in Turkey has ended. Citizens could vote for either incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu until Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. CEST). Preliminary results are expected in the evening.

Erdogan received 49.5 percent of the votes, just short of the absolute majority required for overall victory. Kilicdaroglu scored 44.9 percent, Sinan Ogan, who has since been eliminated in third place, 5.2 percent. In a survey by the Konda Institute, Erdogan is now well ahead of Kilicdaroglu with 47.3 percent with 52.7 percent.

And this despite the fact that Erdogan suffered a number of setbacks in the months leading up to the election. In the winter, inflation hit a 20-year high of 85 percent, and food prices rose even more. During the election campaign, a photo montage of Erdogan made the rounds, with an onion replacing his head. Onions are an important part of Turkish cuisine and have become ten times more expensive in three years. A graphic artist also stuck a photo of Erdogan and the inscription next to it on many ATMs in Istanbul: “Inflation? We are responsible.”

Erdogan also did not cut a good figure in the earthquake disaster on February 6, which killed more than 50,000 people. Twice he had to apologize for the late start of the disaster relief.

The dismissal of the rector of the elite Bogazici University in Istanbul shows the power Erdogan has amassed and the protests this has provoked. When Erdogan replaced the university rector with a professor close to the party in early January 2022, the biggest demonstrations of recent years began. To this day, students and teachers at the university protest every day on campus against the nomination of the new rector.

More than 11.7 million Turks have an AKP party membership

Given these political mistakes, how can Erdogan’s popularity be explained? Middle East Institute expert Gönül Tol told the AP news agency: “In times of national crises like this, people tend to rally around the leader. Voters do not have enough confidence in the opposition’s ability to put things right.”

>> Read here: “I’m here and you’re here too!”: Erdogan’s opponent is not giving up

It is doubtful that this alone explains Erdogan’s popularity with the Turks. Nevertheless, Erdogan still has an exceptionally high level of popular support. It starts with the number of members in his AKP party. More than 11.7 million Turks have an AKP party membership – around 50 million people voted on May 14. That already accounts for more than 20 percent of the electorate, assuming that all party members actually voted.

If every party member has convinced a colleague, a family member or a friend to also vote for AKP and Erdogan, this calculates to almost the 49 percent that Erdogan received in the first ballot.

Polling stations open in Turkey: will Erdogan remain president?

But Erdogan is also very popular abroad, especially in Germany. In the 2018 elections, he got a significantly better result in this country than in his own country. This year, Erdogan received almost two-thirds of all votes cast in Germany.

But why do people vote for Erdogan who are not affected by his politics at all? Haci-Halil Uslucan has devoted itself to precisely this question. The academic head of the Center for Turkish Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen established in 2018 in a large-scale study that the question of the party preference of people of Turkish origin in Germany is less about demographic characteristics or the question of how good or bad someone is is integrated.

“The party preferences of people of Turkish origin living in Germany show contradictory orientations for Germany and Turkey, which for Germany can be traced back to the program for integration policy and to the traditional self-positioning in the working class, but for Turkey to the ethnic-religious origin and character”, explains Uslucan.

AKP supporters in Germany feel underrepresented in this country

According to Uslucan, groups that feel very close to Turkey and little to Germany tend towards the AKP “than those groups that have close ties to Germany or are bicultural and have close ties to Germany”. Almost 90 percent of those polled who would vote for the AKP in Turkey stated that they could exert little or no influence on German politics. Spicy: The survey also included people of Turkish origin who hold a German passport or both passports and are allowed to vote in this country.

In other words: Even those who are allowed to vote in Germany feel underrepresented in this country. “The AKP affinity is thus closely linked to the strengthening of identification with Turkey, the perception of the Turkish government as a representative of interests and the lack of representation by German political institutions,” summarizes Uslucan. “At the same time, however, it also became clear that the high AKP inclination has existed since at least 2008 and is therefore only partly a product of the bilateral tensions between the two countries.”

In Turkey, where every citizen is directly affected by the policies of the head of state, it is more complex. The best example is the Turkish economy. Above all, many Turkish men and women from the middle and upper classes have become significantly wealthier over time. In view of the constantly rising prices, it is difficult to imagine: But the purchasing power of many people in the country has recently increased in many areas.

>> Read here: Commentary: Erdogan’s system is reaching its limits

An example will help to demonstrate this. Five years ago, citizens in the country had to save the equivalent of seven monthly minimum wages to buy an Apple-branded MacBook. Today it is only 2.5 months. However, this higher purchasing power does not apply to all products. The prices for new cars and land in Turkey have risen much faster than income.

However, imported goods such as laptops in particular have become more affordable for many in the country, as various statistics show. The Turkish middle and upper classes could also earn a lot of money through investments. The MSCI Turkey, a passive index fund with stocks from the country, gained 91 percent in 2022 – calculated in euros. Some shares, such as that of Turkish Airlines, rose from the equivalent of 14 euros to 53 euros within a year – an increase of 378 percent.

Many Turks feel abandoned by Europe and the US

The lower class, once one of Erdogan’s most important groups of voters, is left out in such developments: Poor people generally don’t buy laptops or shares. Here, however, he convinces many voters with two character traits that are often found in populists. Erdogan tries to portray himself as a poor boy from Istanbul’s waterfront who has never lost touch with ordinary people – while at the same time emphasizing that he can take on the great and powerful of the world.

Some AKP voters think it’s great when Erdogan, the political upstart, accuses then-Chancellor Angela Merkel of Nazi methods. Erdogan is one who believes he is showing the West.

Banner with image of Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Erdogan challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu stood for a democratic awakening, for change and more solidarity in Turkish society.

(Photo: IMAGO/SNA)

This is also the opinion of many Turks who feel let down by the leading countries in Europe and the USA. Be it in the refugee crisis, during military operations, terrorist attacks or attempted coups: many Turks, spread across the entire political spectrum, would like more support from the West. A political party that reflects this emotional frustration in its program will find a broad potential voter base in Turkey.

There are also conservatives for whom Erdogan is the last resort. In the past, women wearing headscarves were not allowed to enter state buildings, nor were they allowed to enroll at universities. Many of these women are therefore still afraid of a system change. Even if the fear of reintroducing the headscarf ban is long overdue, many conservative women still vote for Erdogan’s AKP because they don’t trust the other parties on this issue.

>> Read here: The Turkish economy has had enough of “erdonomics”

In addition, there could even be some citizens who actually wanted to vote for the opposition candidate. Erdogan challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu stood for a democratic awakening, for change and more solidarity in Turkish society.

But now, ahead of the run-off election, he allows himself to be interviewed by the xenophobic politician Ümiz Özdag, whose party won just 2.2 percent in the parliamentary elections. The reactions are clear: several members of parties in the anti-Erdogan alliance have resigned and publicly complained about Kilicdaroglu’s political shift.

“I will no longer vote for him,” said an official of the Iyi party, which also ran against Erdogan in the alliance. The young politician, who did not want to give his name, now has only two options in the run-off election: either not to vote at all – or to tick Erdogan.

More: Before the runoff: Erdogan admits to having received money from the Gulf States

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