The public’s view of Turkish foreign policy

The public’s view of Turkish foreign policy

Public opinion is an important input for decision-makers and politicians to measure their successes - or rather the public perception of their successes - regarding specific policies and general trends. Conducting surveys is one way to gauge the public’s view at any given time. If you do them regularly, they provide a tool to compare changes in the public’s mood.

A recent survey by the Turkey Research Center of Kadir Has University, conducted in 26 cities across the country with 1,000 people between April 1 and 11, aimed to gauge public perceptions of Turkey’s international relations. The data provides interesting insights into Turkish citizens’ evaluation of their country’s foreign policy. Although there has been a government change since then, the results might still provide helpful directions to the new government when reformulating its foreign policy.

The most striking result of the survey is the downward-trend in the number of people who find Turkey’s foreign policy “successful.” While only 34 percent of the respondents finds Turkish foreign policy successful overall, when it comes to the Middle East - the region with which Turkey has occupied itself most in recent years - only 17.9 percent of respondents said they think Turkey has followed a “successful” policy line. This figure was 30 percent and 37.7 percent respectively in 2015 and 2011. More specifically, on Syria only 16.8 percent of respondents find Turkey’s policies successful, down from 26.2 percent in 2015. Obviously, complications in its recent Middle East policy have negatively affected public perception of Turkey’s overall foreign policy.

Although there seems to be no dramatic change in the public’s perception regarding who are Turkey’s friends and foes in the world, it seems that developments surrounding the downing of the Russian jet on Nov. 24, 2015 - and Russia’s reactions to it - have revived the strong negative image of Russia on Turkish minds.

Moscow rose to second place, with 34.9 percent of respondents finding it a threat to Turkish security. The list was topped, as usual, by the U.S. with 44.1 percent. Syria was third with 30.4 percent, followed closely by Israel with 26 percent, down from 42.6 percent last year.

The majority of respondents (58.2 percent) still support the downing of the Russian jet. Some 57.6 percent of respondents said the incident showed Turkey’s strength (or great power status) while 54.1 percent think it was necessary to protect the border. At the same time, the main reason (41.8 percent) given by those who oppose the downing of the jet is that it was a disproportionate reaction.

Clearly, in connection with the rising threat perception of the public regarding Turkey’s immediate neighborhood, there is a significant rise in support for Turkey’s ties with the EU and NATO, 61.8 percent (47.5 in 2015) and 73.6 percent (67.1 in 2015) respectively. Support for Turkey’s EU membership is particularly interesting, as those who say they believe Turkey would never be able to become a member has also increased to 66.7 percent, up from 47.6 percent last year.

The survey also revealed that 57 percent of respondents believe the readmission deal between Turkey and the EU, signed on March 18, will have a negative impact on Turkey. Some 58.2 percent think it will increase the number of refugees in Turkey, while 31.9 percent think the EU will not keep its promises. At the same time, 57.7 percent of respondents say they are not happy with hosting so many refugees in Turkey, with 45.2 percent saying Turkey should stop taking any new refugees.

Looking at the results of the survey overall, it could be argued that the public generally prefers a reevaluation of Turkish foreign policy and may support a substantial change in several components of it.