People’s choices in Turkish foreign policy

People’s choices in Turkish foreign policy

Public surveys help us to assess the preferences of citizens on a variety of issues. The Turkish Studies Research Center of Kadir Has University in Istanbul has been conducting the Social and Political Trends of Turkey Survey since 2010. The latest, which was conducted in 26 provinces across Turkey with 1,000 people between Dec. 7 and 16, 2016, was released on Jan. 12. In addition to various domestic political, economic and social trends, the survey also keeps track of people’s choices about the country’s international relations.

One of the key areas the survey examines is the fluctuating threat perception of Turkish citizens. The crisis between Turkey and Russia after the downing of a Russian jet on Nov. 24, 2015, by Turkish fighters heavily affected the unfriendly countries list in 2015, propelling Russia to the top at 64.7 percent. This year, however, the thaw in relations allowed Russia to move down to seventh place, with 49.4 percent still considering it a threat to Turkey. The usual suspects that top the list, like every year that the survey has been conducted except for last year, are Israel and the United States at 73.3 and 60.4 percent, respectively. Syria is third at 59.3 percent, closely followed by Iraq (58.3 percent), Armenia (56.8 percent) and Iran (55.3 percent). It seems that the prevailing security discourse internally has had a significant impact on the general public’s international threat perception as well, since threat readings for all the countries on the list have increased by at least 15 percent.

The overall score for those who have declared the government’s foreign policy successful has improved slightly, totaling 35.2 percent this year, up from 30 percent and 32.5 percent, respectively, in 2015 and 2014. The number of people who consider Turkey’s Syria policy “unsuccessful” has decreased from 50.3 to 31.2 percent, whereas those declaring it “successful” increased from 29.5 percent last year to 32.3 percent this year. By the same token, 48.8 percent of the population continues to support the Euphrates Shield Operation.

Other striking results relate to questions on the support for Turkey’s EU membership and its relations with the U.S. The complications in Turkey-EU ties, particularly in connection to the visa liberalization issue throughout last year and heated exchanges about EU assistance to Turkey to stem the flow of refugees into Europe, seem to have caused a significant drop in support of Turkey’s membership process. The 2016 survey found only 45.7 percent of the population still supports Turkey’s membership, the lowest figure since the survey began. By contrast, the figures were 65.1 percent and 71.4 percent, respectively, in 2015 and 2014.
A downward trend is also observed in the percentage of the population that thinks that Turkey could become a member of the EU.

Likewise, only 11.3 percent of the population thinks that the U.S. is Turkey’s friend/ally, a decrease from last year’s 35.4 percent. The drop seems to be emanating mainly from the apparent U.S. support for Kurdish groups in Syria.

Last but not the least, the displeasure among the Turkish public toward refugees continues as 37 percent of the respondents, compared to 32 percent last year, think that Turkey should stop taking additional refugees and repatriate all those already in Turkey to their countries. Another 24.9 percent (30.9 percent last year) favor putting a cap pm the number of refugees that Turkey would receive at any time, while 25.7 percent (24 percent last year) oppose admitting new refugees but support the idea that those refugees already in Turkey should be allowed to stay. Just 10 percent of respondents look favorably on admitting refugees based on their needs without limiting their number.