Is a groundswell rising in Turkey to hit the elections?

Is a groundswell rising in Turkey to hit the elections?

Turkey’s snap elections are only 23 days away but opinion polls are far from giving convergent results. Two recent extremes are Mediar, which calculated President Tayyip Erdoğan’s first round performance at 43.5 percent, and A&G, which calculated it at 55 percent.

If Mediar is right then there will be a second round for the presidential election on July 8 between Erdoğan and Muharrem İnce, the candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The first round of the presidential election is due to be held together with the parliamentary election, and Mediar also foresees the Erdoğan-led alliance losing its parliamentary majority. That could leave Erdoğan in executive power without the backing of law-making capability.

If A&G is right then Erdoğan will be elected on June 24 and the alliance he leads would have a majority in parliament. Enjoying the few checks and balances of the new system, Erdoğan would implement a full transition to the executive presidential system that was narrowly voted for in the 2017 referendum at full speed.

But why are the experienced pollsters of Turkey – where there is an election or referendum seemingly every year - failing to produce reliable results or at least converging ones this time? Murat Gezici of the Gezici research company has an explanation. Speaking to Fatih Altaylı of the Habertürk newspaper, Gezici said the following: “All our researchers have to get 18 forms filled out. For this each researcher knocked on 40 to 45 doors. We used to get 18 positive answers from every 40 doors we knocked. But now in order to get 18 people to detail their political opinions, researchers have to go to 120 addresses.”

“Citizens are declining to share their political views. They either avoid stating their opinion or are reluctant to … Obviously there is some kind of groundswell. I don’t know where it will lead. We have only seen one such example in the 1980s and one in the 2000s. We will see the result on the night of June 24,” Gezici added.

The examples that he gave was Turgut Özal’s victory in spite of the pressure from the military in 1983, Özal’s defeat in the 1987 referendum, and the win of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in 2002.

Exhaustion, or “material fatigue” as Erdoğan calls it, may also be a factor. It has been Erdoğan’s strategy to refresh his support every other year either in the form of an election or referendum. Telling voters about the success of his government in the form of bridges, airports and hospitals - and stressing that they may lose this if he goes - has been a successful strategy so far. He stumbled in 2015 but he managed to put things back on track with a snap poll the same year. The rise in Erdoğan’s support after the July 2016 military coup attempt showed its influence in the April 2017 referendum, which was also helped by the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Either because voters feel insecure, or because they are exhausted by elections, or because of some kind of groundswell, we still do not have reliable polling figures yet. Indeed, we may have to wait until the night of June 24.