Last week, the Migration Research Center at the Istanbul Bilgi University shared the results of its recent survey titled "The Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey”. The survey was conducted in 16 Turkish cities between November and December 2017, through face-to-face interviews with 2.004 people and with supporters of the political parties AKP, CHP, HDP and MHP in Istanbul. The results paint the picture of an ever-growing divide among Turkey’s society, but they also show how it is reflected within the growing social divisions.
To the question which political party they see as farthest away from themselves, 53% of all interviewees responded with HDP and 24% with AKP. The electorate of the HDP was defined by all other party adherents as the group with which they have the least in common. Political preferences manifest themselves also in choices for spouses, neighbors and colleagues. Accordingly, 79% of the interviewees do not want their daughter to get married to someone from the party they oppose the most. The figures are 74% for colleagues, 70% for neighbors and 68% for playmates of their children respectively.
The results also illustrate how the perception of “reality” of every group is based solely on their own thoughts, experiences and news sources. Only 15% of the respondents said that there was disagreement about political matters in their immediate environment. This does not come as a surprise given the fact that the majority of Turks keeps limited relations with “others” and prefers to use newssources that reflect their own opinion rather than comparing available information from different media. The CHP adherents are convinced that the TV channels Halk TV, Fox TV, CNN Türk and the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet are objective, whereas AKP adherents believe that A Haber, Sabah, Yeniçağ and the state channel TRT 1 are unbiased. There is also a tendency in all groups to attribute positive values/ characteristics (such as, working for the good of the country, patriotic, honorable, smart, generous and open-minded) to their own group members, whereas negative attributes (such as being a threat to the country, selfish, hypocrite, cruel, arrogant, and fanatical) are associated completely with the “others”. Hence, political polarization also determines a kind of ethical hierarchy, where those who define themselves as superior are inclined to restrict above all the political rights of others.
Added to this, the emergency rule measures seem to have been “internalized” by broad segments of society. Not only does the majority abstain from openly criticizing emergency rule related policies, (only one fourth of the interviewees claimed that they would discuss emergency rule decisions and applications in open platforms such as social media), a strikingly considerable part of the sample is in favor of restricting certain activities of other electorates, such as organizing marches, meetings, demonstrations and press releases, all of which are among the basic democratic rights of all citizens. Beyond that, 50% of the interviewees agree with the wiretapping of others.
Yet there are also certain commonalities, which cross-cut those sharp political differences and party preferences. One of those issues is about the future of Syrian refugees in Turkey. To the question whether those refugees should return to Syria, 83.2 % of AKP adherents replied, yes. The numbers for the electorate of CHP is 92.8%, the HDP 75%, and the MHP 88%. The second issue on which the majority of the Turkish society seems to be of one mind is related to the “threat perception”. For 54.3% of the interviewees, the USA poses the biggest threat to Turkey. The rate of those who believe that “European states intent to split Turkey, just as they have split the Ottoman state before” is 87.6%., whereby 73.2% think that the reforms demanded by the European Union resemble the articles of the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920 (in which colonial powers agreed to divide the Ottoman Empire). Accordingly, the support for EU membership proves to be quite low. The highest rate of support for a possible membership referendum came from HDP supporters, with 49%. Among MHP supporters, only one fifth said they would vote yes in a theoretical membership referendum. In addition to the convictions about foreign policy issues and the refugee problem, the role of the women in society also seems to be a point of convergence. 55% of all interviewees agreed with the proposition that “children are harmed, if the mother is working”, whereas half of the respondents agreed with the statement “if people cannot find employment, it is rather the right of men than women to work”.
The academicians Emre Erdoğan and Pınar Uyan Semerci, who conducted the research said that they are expecting political polarization to increase even further given the fact that Turkey is on the eve of a series of elections and warned that such widespread polarization may become one of the principal obstacles in front of a qualified democracy in Turkey.