More discontent of AKP does not mean increased support for opposition

More discontent of AKP does not mean increased support for opposition

A year ago at around this time, I conducted an interview with one of Turkey’s prominent pollsters, Bekir Ağırdır, who had said anxiety was on the rise in Turkey. “Society is boiling from within,” he had said. However, despite the fact that uneasiness was on the rise in Turkey, political preferences were not changing, he added. In other words, more and more people were feeling unhappy with the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) policies, but this discontent had not been channeled to another political party.

Most probably, we currently have the same situation. In fact, it is likely that the number of those who disapprove of the AKP’s policies have increased even more following the Gezi events. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s intolerance of a small group of environmentalists' protest against the demolition of a park, which later turned into widespread anti-government demonstrations, must have played a role in clarifying the minds of those who were still unsure as to whether they should continue giving credit to the AKP.

Yet, although discontent must be on the rise, this is still not reflected in public opinion polls. AKP officials look very confident, as the polls they receive show only a slight drop in their level of support. 

Indeed, although the polls showing only a slight drop could prove to be misleading, we should not expect the desertion of large blocs from the AKP. There is no cause to rejoice for the opposition parties, because those unhappy with the AKP have yet to decide whether they will be switching ranks or not.
Kadir Has University last week released a poll on the public perception of Turkish foreign policy. The poll shows a sharp decrease in the Turkish public’s approval of the AKP’s foreign policies. The number of those who said they found the government’s foreign policy "successful" dropped from 34 percent in 2012 to 25.1 percent in 2013. 

Interestingly enough, those unhappy with the AKP’s diplomacy did not join the ranks of those who said they found the AKP’s foreign policy “unsuccessful.” Rather, they joined the ranks of those who said “partially successful,” which constituted 38.9 percent of respondents.

Similarly, the percentage of people who considered the government's Middle East-oriented policies a “success” decreased from 37.7 percent in January 2012 to 35.4 percent in January 2013, and dramatically so to 26.7 percent today. Yet the percentage of those who said they found the government’s Middle Eastern policies “unsuccessful” remained nearly the same at 44 percent in 2011, 42.6 percent in January 2013, and 43.6 percent in November 2013. 

Those who deserted the ranks of the "Middle Eastern policies are successful" category bypassed the “Middle Eastern policies are unsuccessful" category and settled with those who said “they are neither successful nor unsuccessful,” forming 29.7 of the respondents in November 2013. 

Few would disagree that those who would vote for the AKP no matter what make up at least around 30 to 35 percent. The remaining AKP voters, which includes those who do not necessarily endorse conservative values but have been happy with how the country has been administered so far, are those who are uneasy about where things stand. However, right now, they also know that they don’t want to vote for opposition parties as they do not find them credible. Most probably, they will decide on the day of the election. 

Meanwhile, at the same time, the perception that the AKP will once again score an overwhelming win in the coming March 2014 local elections might also play against them. Local elections are sometimes used by the public to send a warning message to the government. Some who believe that Turkey should continue to be ruled by an AKP that needs some readjustment in its policies may use the local elections to convey their message ahead of the general elections, which are expected to be held within a year of the local elections.