Facing uncertainty, which known brand will Turks stick with?
“The sociologist part of me is still looking for the answer to this question,” daily Hürriyet writer Ertuğrul Özkök wrote in an article published on Nov. 21, 2015, three weeks after the Nov. 1 general elections.
“What was in the heads of the 4 million people when they went to the ballot box in the morning of Nov. 1 and changed their mind to cast their votes for the AKP [Justice and Development Party]?”
He was alluding to the fact that while the AKP had suffered losses in general elections in June of the same year, resulting in the loss of its majority, in just five months’ time, it had succeeded in reversing the results and getting enough votes to govern alone again.
“I do not think that the opposition was unsuccessful,” wrote Özkök.
“There has to be something else which has even surprised AKP members. The other day I met Professor Beno Cialdini from Arizona University’s psychology and marketing department. ‘The psychology of persuasion,’ the book he published in 1984, has sold 2 million copies. He is the expert who knows the best the persuasion issue.
“When I asked him the question in my mind, Professor Cialdini said, ‘This is not something which surprises me,’ and asked what happened in Turkey within that four months between the two elections.
“I listed them off. The government was not formed, terror incidents increased, the Turkish Lira’s value went down…
“He finished my words by saying, ‘in other words, uncertainty.’
“When I said ‘yes,’ he continued: ‘In situations of uncertainty, people go to the brand they know the best and stick to it…not only in politics, that’s also valid in economic life and even on market shelves.’”
The fact that we will most probably soon face the ballot box again made me recall Özkök’s article and Cialdini’s theory.
The crucial fact is this: while facing uncertainty back in 2015, the majority in Turkey voted for the best brand they knew. Yet uncertainty has not disappeared since; on the contrary, it has become perpetual.
According to Cialdini’s theory; faced with continuous uncertainty, voters will stick to the brand they know the best. Therefore, the AKP should rather feel confident about the ballot box.
“Not so fast,” a veteran colleague of mine told me. “Look at the brand you are talking about as the one people know the best. It is no longer the brand they knew.”
“At that time [summer 2015], the causes of uncertainty was not so much attributed to the AKP. This might no longer be the case today,” he said.
Indeed the developments that followed the July 15 coup attempt as well as Turkey’s cross-border operation into Syria right after the failed coup are the two gigantic new elements in the equation.
While totally being aware of the AKP’s role in creating the Turkish Frankenstein in the form of the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), loyalists of the ruling party will not hold the government responsible for the coup. But what occurred in the aftermath might have taken a certain toll even among AKP loyalists, since the operation against FETÖ has affected millions of lives, whereas it should have targeted the core structure and been selective on the periphery.
The cross-border operations in Syria, which has resulted in the deaths of dozens of Turkish soldiers and increasingly made Turkey a target of terror attacks might also not bode well for the ruling elites.
So when there are ballot boxes in the spring for a referendum on a transition to a presidential system, how will the voters act?
Facing uncertainty, even if a perpetual one, will they stick to the brand they know the best and vote in accordance with what AKP/President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants? Or will they say this is no longer the brand we know the best and hold the AKP/Erdoğan responsible for the uncertainty?
Will they perceive the referendum as a way to test their loyalty to the AKP/Erdoğan or a way to reflect their dissatisfaction which will not come at the cost of ending AKP rule since the government will continue to stay in power, regardless of the results?
Facing perpetual uncertainty, will they stick to the brand they know best, “the parliamentary system,” rather than opt for an unknown presidential system?
Tough questions await AKP voters, as well as sympathizers of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the government’s unofficial junior partner.