Turkish perceptions on foreign policy

Turkish perceptions on foreign policy

Turkey is a complicated country. It’s not just foreign observers – citizens also fail to make sense from time to time given the fast-changing agenda. Thus, regular public opinion surveys are welcome as they provide rare insights about the preferences of the Turkish public. One such survey, the Turkey Social and Political Trends Survey, has been conducted by the Turkey Research Center at Kadir Has University since 2010, providing important data by talking to 1,000 people from 26 cities. The results of the 2015 survey were released on Tuesday.

The survey probes several issues including political preferences, public confidence in institutions, government policies, the problems Turkey faces in its international relations and domestic economic, political and social developments. I will look at the responses related to the country’s foreign policy.

As expected, the downing of the Russian Su-24 fighter jet on Nov. 24, 2015, figures heavily in the minds of the Turkish public. The heavy-handed Russian response moved it to the top of the list of countries that Turkish people perceive as a threat. While Russia is seen as the most unfriendly nation to Turkey by 64.7 percent of the people, other regulars on the list, such as the United States and Israel, last year’s biggest threats, registered a downward shift this year. At the same time, Turkish public overwhelmingly (62 percent) supported the downing of the Russian jet, with 78.5 percent of respondents believing that it was a necessary act in order to protect Turkey’s borders.

Turkey’s traditional lone-wolf syndrome is on the decline this year, with just 29.7 percent (down from 34.4 percent in 2014 and 49.4 percent in 2013) supporting a more isolationist foreign policy, while 19.5 percent of respondents said they supported Turkey’s closer relations and alliance with the U.S. and 17 percent with the EU – all-time highs over the last five years. The results show that, in times of increased threat perception, the Turkish public is pivoting toward its factory settings and away from adventurous paths. However, the support for the continuation of Turkey’s NATO membership decreased from 76.2 to 69.5 this year, though it is still higher than the 2011-2013 period.

The government’s policy in Syria is still deemed “unsuccessful” by half of the public (50.3 percent), while 46.5 percent of respondents opposed any sort of Turkish intervention in Syria. Even support for international intervention in Syria is rather low at only 15.2 percent. However, 54.1 percent of respondents support air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while another 29.3 percent favor Turkey’s contribution to the international coalition’s air strikes while 85.8 percent oppose Turkish support for ground operations. A related finding is that 86.4 percent of respondents describe ISIL as a terrorist organization and 78 percent consider it as a threat to Turkey, both down from last year’s 93.2 and 82.3 percent respectively. This is even though 54.1 percent believe that the terrorist bombings in Diyarbakır, Suruç and Ankara were perpetrated by ISIL.

Finally, the displeasure of Turkish public toward Syrian refugees is evident at 60.6 percent, while 32 percent of respondents think that Turkey should stop taking new refugees and repatriate all Syrians to their country. Another 30.6 percent favor limiting the number of refugees the country accepts and 24.0 percent of the respondents oppose admitting new refugees, but believe that those Syrians who are already in the country should be allowed to stay.

They are interesting results to say the least, proving once more how intricate policymaking in Turkey has to be and how convoluted Turkish public opinion is.