According to your latest research, how do you see the presidential race, what does the picture look like?
I think it is more accurate to interpret these numbers as a trend, rather than seeing them instantaneously. So let me do the same. Since 2018, the People’s Alliance has been losing power. This decline reached its lowest levels towards the middle of last year.
In 2018, the vote totals of the People’s Alliance were around 53.6 percent. Last year this rate dropped all the way to 38 percent.
Economic indicators in Turkey were at their lowest levels at that time, especially in the middle of last year. The low approval ratings for the People’s Alliance were a bit in parallel with that. After that, the coalition experienced a recovery. I pay close attention to these numbers especially because Erdoğan’s votes are often parallel.
That recovery continued until the end of the year, and when we came to January-February, we saw that it stopped and the recovery had peaked. And that peak was at 44 percent. Erdoğan’s votes are also parallel to this.
Because there is some desertion from the People’s Alliance. Some of the MHP’s voters may not vote for Erdoğan. It was the same in 2018. But there are also those who support him from outside the alliance—those who will not vote for the alliance parties but will support Erdoğan. Because of this, Erdoğan’s votes are approximately parallel to the People’s Alliance. Erdoğan’s votes therefore have a margin that varies between 40 and 44 percent.
There is a mass of voters who are angry with Erdoğan and the government, who have distanced themselves from him, but there is also a mass of voters who tend to support him, but who do some soul-searching. This constituency is sometimes in the mood to abstain, or to vote one last time, and is also sometimes angry with the opposition.
Erdoğan’s margin in the best case scenario seems to be around 44-45 percent, but this is an election with 4 candidates.
Kılıçdaroğlu is clearly in the lead. The other two candidates also have a significant portion of the vote. İnce especially has seen a sudden rise in the last month—though it is difficult for a political candidate or party to maintain that. As a matter of fact, İnce has already started to decline.
If the votes of Sinan Oğan and Muharrem İnce exceed 5 percent, the possibility of the election going to the second round increases if we consider this 44-45 percent threshold. However, if they fall below 5 percent, Kılıçdaroğlu is likely to win in the first round. Erdoğan is unlikely to exceed 50 percent.
What happens in a likely second round?
Whoever wins the parliamentary majority will be a decisive factor in the fate of a second round election. However, it seems that voters cannot imagine this and do not think about it when making their choices. We talk about the presidential system so much that we have begun to perceive the parliament as an ineffective institution. We have never had an experience where the parliamentary majority was on one side and the presidency on the other. Maybe if we had, the president would not have been able to rule in such an authoritarian manner.
Erdoğan got to 44-45 percent and has stayed there, but there are still undecided voters who are wondering whether to vote for the AKP or not. There are also undecided voters on the other side. Considering Muharrem İnce’s recent performance, is there still a possibility for both candidates to rise towards 50 percent?
Of course there is. Undecided rates are not actually very high. What we observe in our fieldwork is not undecided voters but what I call disturbed voters.
There is a large cluster of disturbed voters on both sides. In past years, we used to see this much less in the AK Party, because the voters who supported the AKP did so passionately, not with rational voting behavior. That voting behavior determined all their positions. But opposition voters were never like that. A significant portion of voters supported who supported the CHP were uncomfortable, but they would vote for the CHP anyway because of a sense of obligation and negative identification.
Now this phenomenon of the disturbed voter has grown on the AK Party’s side as well.
The number of AKP voters who would say “this system has brought us here” [I.e. to a negative place] has grown considerably. But despite this discomfort, they do not change their voting behavior. There are various sociological and political explanations for this, but the most obvious one is that they don’t like the alternatives. There is no party in the opposition that they like enough or feel close to.
These disturbed voters are in flux. Sometimes, their reflex is not to go to the polls, and sometimes it is to flock to parties that are easy for them to identify with. An electorate like this is very mobile, and what they do will be decisive.
The question of who will go to the polls, and who will not, will be a decisive factor. We saw this in the Istanbul elections.
According to our calculations, about 350 thousand opposition voters came and voted even though they had not voted in the first round. At the same time, around 150 thousand voters who had supported Binali Yıldırım did not go to the polls a second time. These two already make a difference of 500 thousand, and there were more who changed their vote in the interim. It was therefore not the voters who made the difference in the Istanbul election, but those who had not voted.
With the likelihood of a second-round election in May, we face the same possibility now.