Survey: Is polarization Turkey’s fate?

A new international study has produced striking results about the growth of polarization in Turkey this year. 

The study, by the German Marshall Fund of the US and the Istanbul Bilgi University Center for Migration Research with financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), published its results on Dec. 22, revealing the social distance, political intolerance and echo chambers within Turkish society.

The survey, entitled “Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey 2020”, was conducted through face-to-face interviews across 29 cities with some 4,000 representing Turkey’s adult population. The results were announced on Tuesday morning.

Among all political party supporters, the US is seen as the biggest threat, followed by Israel and Russia.

Eighty-six percent of all respondents want 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey to go back home, while this view climbs to 93 percent among CHP supporters.

As a prominent indicator of political polarization, people created a social distance from others who hold “the most distant” political line to their own.

While 72 percent of the participants do not want to do business with supporters of the “most distant” political party, some 60 percent also do not want them as neighbors. Another 66 percent said that they do not want their children to play with children of that political party’s supporters, and 75 percent don’t want their children to get married with children of the “other” political party.

Professor Emre Erdogan, an academic from Istanbul Bilgi University and the scientific coordinator of the study, said the survey revealed a decreasing willingness for living together among supporters of different political parties.

“This is a polarization both on political and emotional fronts, and is becoming an acute problem for the country,” he told Arab News.

70 percent of CHP supporters, 67 percent of HDP supporters and 65 percent of IYI Party supporters think that social disagreements increased in the country over the last year, with the failed coup attempt, the Kurdish conflict and the executive presidential system that grants President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with excessive power being the hot topics for disagreement.

Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, thinks polarization seems to be part of the government’s strategy, or at least a consequence of it.

“President Erdogan himself has long used divisive rhetoric and depicted his political opponents as vandals, terrorists, or enemies of the state,” he told Arab News, adding that the government-affiliated media has also been known to demonize critics and contribute to the polarization in the country.

 The survey shows that polarization also deepens with some controversial issues. The supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalistic ally MHP vehemently support divisive projects such as Kanal Istanbul artificial waterway project or the re-conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, while the opposition party supporters stand against them.

“The timing of the Hagia Sophia decision was probably related to the need to shore up support among core Erdogan and AKP supporters at a time of crisis. It was a big card to play though for relatively small gain at home and irreversibly sours perceptions of Turkey in the West and Orthodox Christian world,” Nora Fisher Onar, Turkey expert from University of San Francisco International Studies department, told Arab News.

“Another aspect of domestic governance that has been polarizing is the government’s interference in an attempt to usurp resources from or block opposition mayors’ provisions of public goods like transportation infrastructure,” she added.

Instead, the education in the mother tongue for the Kurdish community gathers all party supporters against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) supporters.

But supporters of the opposition parties stand against the appointment of trustees to the Kurdish-led municipalities with half of the population opposed.

A majority of the respondents do not use Twitter (63 percent) and Facebook (66 percent) as a means to share their political views.

Half of the respondents think the economy and unemployment are the most important problems of the country, followed by inflation rates. Eighty percent of AKP supporters think their opinions are represented in the country’s governance, while this rate is only 13.6 percent among CHP supporters and 8.1 percent among HDP supporters.

The supporters of the opposition parties are inclined to move abroad if they have a chance. One-third of CHP supporters and almost half of HDP supporters would think of immigration for finding a better job, for better opportunities of personal freedoms and due to losing hope about the country’s future.

“The unemployment, the poverty and the lack of means for political expression are the main factors that weaken the citizenship bond of HDP supporters,” Prof. Erdogan said.

Ninety percent of HDP supporters, 80 percent of CHP supporters and 69 percent of IYI Party supporters don’t think that the elections are held fairly in Turkey.

“This perception further strengthens the political alienation of people and it pushes them to migrate to other countries where they would be better represented on political fronts with democratic elections,” Prof. Erdogan said.

77 percent of AKP supporters feel “emotionally” attached to the country, while this rate declines to 65 percent among CHP supporters and 45 percent among HDP supporters.

According to Onar, Ankara’s assertive regional policies are most worrisome to HDP voters — especially regarding Syria and Iraq — and for the more progressive elements in the CHP, but are viewed positively by the right-wing nationalist AKP-MHP coalition and also for some in the center-right and center-left nationalist IYI Party.

“The more you polarize by encouraging a strong sense of ‘them’ versus ‘us’ the more you can generate passionate support among your followers. But then the harder it becomes to govern, requiring more polarization to stay in power and making it even harder to govern. This becomes a vicious circle,” she said.


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