ANKARA — With less than three weeks before Turkey's elections on May 14, the race between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his top challenger, main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, will be the closest in the country’s electoral history, according to an Al-Monitor/Premise poll.
The poll of 972 respondents was conducted by Al-Monitor in partnership with data and analytics firm Premise Data between April 18 and April 24, 2023 across Turkey. The margin of error is +/-3.
The survey found a statistical tie as support for Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu stood at 45.2% and 44.9% respectively.
By contrast, the country’s previous elections had seen the gap between the two frontrunners significantly widen as the races neared the end. In the lead up to the 2018 presidential election polls were putting Erdogan at an average of five-point lead ahead against his top contender Muharrem Ince at the time.
While the majority of the respondents (62.1%) said they were unhappy with the current political climate in the country and some 45.8% of them believe the country was heading in the wrong direction, the poll shows the country’s opposition has not been able to fully capitalize on the country’s deepening economic and social grievances.
Turkey has been facing one of the worst cost-of-living crises in its recent history with the country’s year-on-year inflation reaching a 24-year high of 85.5% late last year before easing to nearly 50% in March. The fall is largely due to the favorable base effect from the previous period.
A decisive majority also believes that the issue is the country’s most immediate challenge, with some 69.6% of the respondents saying the economy and inflation make up the biggest issue the country is facing.
Economists believe that the Central Bank’s unorthodox rate cuts have been one of the top drivers of inflation. Erdogan, who holds the unconventional view that high interest rates cause high inflation, pledged this week that they will not be increased as long as he is in power.
A second significant concern among the voters stands out as corruption, as some 7.6% of respondents believe that issue is the top problem the country is facing. Turkey's transparency rankings have been steadily declining, according to the Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2022 report, which ranked the country 101st among 180 countries. In addition, Turkey remains on the "grey list" of the Financial Action Task Force since 2021, which means the country is subject to heightened scrutiny over terrorist financing, money laundering and institutional corruption.
Refugees, meanwhile, remain the third-highest concern among voters at 7.3%. Turkey is home to more than 4.5 million refugees, 4 million of them from Syria. Ensuring the return of refugees remains among the top election pledges of both the ruling party and the six-party opposition bloc.
The Feb. 6 earthquakes that killed at least 50,500 people across the country’s 11 provinces, which were also home to nearly a million Syrians, have further fueled the anti-refugee sentiment in the country. The government’s fatally slow earthquake response has fueled the angst against Erdogan’s government and deepened the country’s financial woes with international institutions estimating the temblors would cost between $30 billion and $80 billion to the national economy.
Yet as the impact of the government’s failure to make a timely response to the quakes seem to be wearing off and as its economic impacts have yet to kick in, only 26% of respondents said their trust in the government after the disaster had greatly decreased. Some 24.4% said their trust in the government has somewhat decreased.
Meanwhile, 15.4% of respondents said their trust in the government greatly increased after the disaster and 12.3% said their trust in the government somewhat increased.
Erdogan, who has been the longest serving leader of the modern Turkish republic, and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are facing their toughest reelection bid in his more than two-decade rule as he is facing a largely united opposition front.
A decisive majority of the voters believe that the elections will be fateful. Asked about how important the elections will be in determining the future of Turkey, 89.3% of the respondents said “very important.”
In an indication of likely high turnout on May 14, 96.7% of respondents said they were registered to vote in the elections. When asked about whether they were planning to vote, 84.2% of them said they would do so.
The youth appear to be the most reluctant. Among 11.3% remain undecided, a big segment of aged between 18-25(18%), said they were still undecided whether to vote.
Turkey’s six-party opposition bloc led by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also includes the AKP offshoots DEVA and Gelecek (Future) as well as the Democrat Party, Islamist Felicity and nationalist Iyi (Good) parties. The bloc is fielding CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu as its joint presidential candidate against Erdogan.
Following the country’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) announced that it wouldn’t field a candidate in tacit support of the main opposition leader, the majority of the Kurds, the expected kingmakers of the elections, are likely to support Kilicdaroglu. The six-party alliance’s main pledge is to end Erdogan’s executive presidential system, which was introduced in 2018 after a narrow referendum. Government critics argue that the system sped up the country’s democratic backsliding as well as the erosion of the rule of law and judicial independence.
Erdogan and his ruling alliance stress the need for stability, arguing that the six-party alliance would struggle to govern the country, drawing on in-house disagreements among the alliance's highest ranks.
Turkey has witnessed deepening polarization under the rule of Erdogan, who has comfortably handled almost every electoral challenge he faced since becoming prime minister in 2003.
Voters also seem to be divided on foreign policy issues. Asked which country they would like Turkey to develop closer ties with, 34.7% of respondents said the United States while 26.5% said Russia and 23.4% said China.