The power of the undecided

The power of the undecided

There are less than 40 days left until the referendum on constitutional amendments that will grant unprecedented power to Turkey’s president. But pollsters are having the hardest time in decades on how to distribute the undecided voters or not distribute them at all. At least 17-20 percent of the electorate seems to be either undecided or not willing to share their views – the main culprit for this “Brexit syndrome” is the “state of emergency” that has been in effect since just after the July 2016 coup attempt.

Even the most devout Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporter, when asked about his/her vote, seems to be shying away from saying a heartfelt “YES for ERDOĞAN.” The question is, will they go to the ballot box and will they vote “no.” 

“Not so fast,” say most experts. Murat Gezici, a leading pollster who correctly predicted the first presidential election in 2014, says that 17 percent of the undecided are leaning toward skipping the vote rather than turning to the “no” camp. 

“Contrary to popular belief,” Gezici said, “68 percent of voters who might skip the ballot box are actually potential ‘no’ voters. There was the same belief during the presidential elections among CHP [Republican People’s Party] voters. My vote won’t change anything or they are going to do tricks in the ballot counting process… etc. This complacency, if repeated again, will really cost big.”

Gezici has a point on the other side as well. The AK Party’s well-off voters who benefited from the construction boom, who landed plum jobs in government tenders or who took over former Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) institutions at zero cost suddenly feel they are indebted to the “chief.” But the devout, old-school AK Party supporters – the founders of this movement – are uneasy about this constitutional amendment. Decrees that purged thousands of government workers, teachers and police officers come with a social price tag in these people’s neighborhoods. 

Over the weekend, my mother and I went to our old hometown of Bursa, the automotive hub of the country. The newly built toll road to Bursa from Istanbul was pretty empty. But the ferryboats that charge less now were fully packed. The big shopping malls in Bursa were half-empty. But the little neighborhood coffeeshops in Mudanya were packed. These are signs of choice. Even in the most pro-AK Party towns, there is fatigue and concern about the future. 

MetroPoll’s recent poll about “leaving the country for good” has even more stunning results. Among the well-educated (but not rich), 36 percent want to live abroad, 47 percent has no answer. Between the ages of 18-54, i.e., the most productive age, a shocking 68 percent want to live abroad. Turkey’s most promising generation is slowly aiming to leave the country for good under tougher AK Party rule. Wealth and intellect does not accumulate overnight, but when such people leave, they do not come back. 

Ironically, these are not the undecided voters. If they are rich, they are eventually going to move to Europe and they cannot care less about the referendum. If they are well-educated, they are fed up and tired with politics. The undecided are those in small towns like Tokat, Amasya, Bilecik and Ordu. They are the ones that pray every night so that their sons do not get killed in Syria. They are the ones that worry about their daughters being unemployed for more than five years. They are the really powerful ones. 

Their vote will be the game changer for this country.