Turkish elections are less predictable than ever before

Forty days before the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey, opinion polls with significantly diverging results have begun to appear. 

After the decision to hold snap elections were taken in late April this year, news of opinion polls began to appear in the Turkish media. Some have come out in the form of interviews with pollsters, while others were cited by political parties (“according to opinion polls we have ordered”) to back their political standing. Several of the research companies are known for their political biases.

Hence there is a significant difference between the results. Being a highly politicized activity, the opinion polls rarely serve the purposes of political forecasting, but act more as PR strategies of certain political groups, and as being a clickbait for the media.

A similar atmosphere also prevailed before the constitutional referendum in April 2017. The head of a well-known research company had declared that the yes vote was over 60 percent. He came under heavy criticism by the opposition for manipulating the public opinion, when it turned out that only slightly over 50 percent of the voters had opted for yes.

Nowadays the pro-government polls predict a first round victory for President Erdoğan with 55 per cent, while some others foresee a second round of elections that would be neck to neck. Some polls even predict that the AKP-MHP alliance will lose the majority in the parliament, which indicates a possible scenario whereby Erdoğan is re-elected as the president lacking control over the parliament. The research companies are expected to go public with the results of their first surveys on all of the presidential candidates at the end of this week.

That the polls are so inconclusive adds even more uncertainty to an electoral race that is already riddled with uncertainties: who will come out as the main challenger to President Erdoğan in a possible second round? How many of the votes can s/he hope to gain? Will all parties overcome the 10% threshold? And what will happen, if the one party’s presidential candidate wins, but it fails to gain a majority in parliament? The latter depends to a large extent on the performance of the pro-Kurdish left alliance HDP, more specifically whether or not it will trespass the 10 per cent threshold as it closely did in the last elections in November 2015. The implications of various results would lead to completely different scenarios varying from total victory to total defeat, for Mr. Erdoğan and his party.

The conditions under the state of emergency and the rampant political polarization add to the tension in the campaign period. As already in the last two voting processes, the parties do not face each other on a level playing field. The government is criticized for the unfair use of public resources and its hegemony over the public and private media. And the general atmosphere of fear creates doubts about the possibility of reliable political forecasting. It is doubtful, if all respondents of polls feel confident enough to answer to the question truthfully, fearing possible consequences.

If one is to believe the polls, it is however clear, which topics voters are concerned about. According to an annual survey of Kadir Has University, the economy prevailed as “The Most Important Current Problem in Turkey” even before combatting terrorism. With the Turkish Lira having lost approximately 10 per cent of its value against the American Dollar in the one month (and ca. 3 months after this survey was public) a further public concern wouldn’t surprise anyone.

In the past, Mr Erdoğan has also proved his competence in exploiting international political crises prior to elections. If he were to follow this pattern again, the current crisis over Jerusalem and Gaza would be something that might shift voters’ opinion in his favor.