Turkey’s worst year was a success story for the AKP

Turkey’s worst year was a success story for the AKP

There is no doubt that terrorism is Turkey’s most important problem. It does not therefore come as a surprise when it tops the “most important problem” list in public opinion polls, like the recent one conducted by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University in which 35 percent of respondents said it was the key problem facing Turkey.

The “Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ)” is second in the list (cited by 25 percent), while economic difficulties rank third, (unemployment was cited by 10.5 percent and the high cost of life was cited by 9.8 percent). 

The survey is interesting in terms of the discrepancy between the public’s complaints about economic difficulties and the perception about who is responsible for these difficulties. According to the poll, made public yesterday, 55.7 percent said they had gotten worse off economically, while only 26 percent said they were not affected at all by economic developments. 

Some 71 percent of those polled said there is an economic crisis in Turkey. They are not all made up of the AKP’s staunchest opponents, as 60 percent of those who said they voted for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said there is an economic crisis in Turkey. 

So even AKP supporters are aware of the deterioration in the economy. But respondents find the government’s economic policies more successful than unsuccessful, with 38.7 percent stating the former and 35.3 percent stating the latter. This is a clear reversal in the trend, as the same poll conducted over the last four years always had more people finding the government’s economic policies unsuccessful compared to those who found them successful. 

The poll was conducted last December. It should probably be a surprise to see the increase in support for the government’s economic policies coming at a time when Turkey registered negative growth in the third quarter of 2016.

However, the results overlap with the findings of another recent survey conducted by the A&G polling company. That poll revealed that the public does not hold the government responsible for economic difficulties. For instance, for the majority of those polled by A&G, the foreign exchange rate volatility was due to “outside interference.” 

Poll findings show that the government has succeeded in convincing the public that foreign forces are behind Turkey’s economic and political problems. 

This is also reflected in foreign policy perceptions. Only 11.3 percent of those polled said the U.S. was Turkey’s friend/ally, an all-time low for the six years that Kadir Has University has conducted the poll. While last year 40 percent thought the U.S. was a threat to Turkey, this year that number rose to 60 percent. 

Ironically, few would disagree that 2016 was the worst year in the past decade, but poll findings show that the government enjoys a higher level of support compared to past years. As suggested by A&G head Adil Gür, much of the public perceives an outside threat following the failed July 2016 coup and thus is rallying behind the government.

But there is also the fact that the public might have been sensitive to certain changes made by the government. For example, the government is enjoying higher support for its foreign policy, with the number of people finding it successful outnumbering those who find it unsuccessful (a first in many years). This likely reflects satisfaction with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s announced policy based on the motto, “We’ll increase our friends and decrease our number of enemies,” as a result of which Turkey–Russia relations were normalized.

 There is also higher public support for Ankara’s Syria policy following the cross-border Euphrates Shield Operation, despite the fact that Turkey has suffered casualties due to the operation. 

Meanwhile, despite the increase in deadly outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terror attacks, the government’s military measures and harsh crackdown on the Kurdish problem seems to be paying off, as there has been a rise in support for government policies on the issue. Some 61 percent of those polled said they believe the PKK can be crushed militarily, while 56 percent said they were in favor of the arrest of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) officials.