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Al-Monitor/Premise Turkey poll: Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu statistically tied in election runoff

The poll found the economy, refugees and justice stand out as the top three issues that the country faces, with 71% of respondents favoring an imminent return of refugees in the country.
TOPSHOT - A huge electoral poster bearing a portrait of Turkish President and presidential candidate of AK Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a slogan which reads "Keep going with the right man" covers the facade of a high-rise building in Ankara, on May 23, 2023, ahead of the presidential election runoff on May 28, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

ANKARA — As Turkey prepares to hold its first ever runoff vote to elect its next president on Sunday, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu are locked in a statistical tie, a new Al-Monitor/Premise poll found, while a significant portion of voters remain undecided.

The poll of 970 respondents was conducted by Al-Monitor in partnership with Premise Data between May 19 and May 23 across Turkey. The margin of error is +/-3.

The poll indicates a nail-biting race in Turkey, the closest in the country's modern history. It showed 40% of respondents favoring Erdogan and 39% favoring Kilicdaroglu. A whopping 15% of those polled remain undecided only five days before the election. 

The economy, refugees and justice stand out as the top three issues that the respondents deem challenges for the country. 

In the May 14 elections, neither Erdogan nor Kilicdaroglu secured a simple majority to be elected in the first round. The incumbent president finished the race with nearly a five-point lead, but it was the first race Erdogan has been unable to win outright during his more than two decades in power. Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu received 49.52% and 44.88% of the vote, respectively. 

The country’s longest-serving leader is now facing his first runoff after deftly overcoming almost every electoral challenge he has faced as the nation is gripped by a deepening cost-of-living crisis with no end in sight. The Feb. 6 earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in the country’s south exacerbated the country’s financial woes. 

A majority of respondents also believe that the most important issue Turkey is facing is the economy. More than 57% of the respondents said food prices and inflation are the biggest problems in the country. 

Turkey’s Central Bank, whose independence has largely eroded over the past few years, follows a highly unorthodox monetary policy under Erdogan’s influence. As its peers raised their interest rates to rein in inflation, Turkey’s Central Bank delivered several interest rates cuts, bringing it as low as 8.5. Many blame Erdogan’s unconventional economic theory, which argues that higher interest rates cause higher inflation, for the breakneck inflation that climbed to 85.5% late last year before easing to below 45% in April.

However, Kilicdaroglu has been unable to convince voters that he could restore the economy, with 52% of the respondents saying they trust Erdogan on the economy and 48% saying they trust Kilicdaroglu. 

In contrast, on the issue of refugees in Turkey, the main opposition leader seems to have managed to garner more trust among voters. Of the respondents, 57% said they trust Kilicdaroglu more in this area while 43% said they trust Erdogan.

A sweeping majority of the respondents, 71%, said the refugees should return to their country as soon as possible. Only 5% of respondents said the decision should be up to them, with 20% saying they should return only when it’s safe for them to do so. 

Asked whether they support reconciling relations with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, 44% of respondents said yes while 24% said no. 

The public debate surrounding refugees became particularly heated in the campaign after far-right candidate Sinan Ogan received an unexpected 5.17%, placing third in the May 14 presidential vote. The immediate and forceful return of refugees was a central theme in the campaigning by Ogan and his far-right Ata Alliance. 

The unexpected support Ogan garnered in the first round forced Kilicdaroglu to dial up his anti-refugee rhetoric. In an unusually jingoistic tone earlier this week, he described refugees as potential criminals and pledged to send them back to their countries as soon as he gets elected.  His remarks failed to sway Ogan, who announced his endorsement for Erdogan in Sunday's runoff. 

However, it remains unclear to what extent Ogan’s support will boost Erdogan's chances. The far-right electoral alliance that carried the unaffiliated candidate into mainstream politics was divided last week, with its heavyweights endorsing Kilicdaroglu while Ogan supported Erdogan.

The majority of the parties within Ogan’s alliance, including its pillar the Zafer (Victory) Party and its architect leader Umit Ozdag, endorsed Kilicdaroglu. Zafer received more than 2% of the votes in the May 14 parliamentary vote. 

The third biggest issue the nation is facing stands as justice, according to the poll, with 11% of respondents placing it at the top. Government critics have long argued that the independence of the judiciary has eroded under Erdogan’s executive presidency, which has been accused of removing all checks and balances in the country.

Meanwhile, Erdogan’s efforts to make national security the dominant theme of the campaign by casting the opposition six-party electoral alliance and their candidate Kilicdaroglu as collaborators of outlawed groups seem to have somewhat failed. Only 3% of respondents believe that national security is the most important issue the country is facing today. Yet 57% of the respondents said they trust Erdogan more on issues about national security while 43% said they trust Kilicdaroglu. 

The closely fought campaign took nasty twists in the final weeks before the May 14 vote. During his massive rally in Istanbul, Erdogan played a campaign ad that was doctored to look as though outlawed Kurdish militant leaders were singing the campaign song of the six-party opposition bloc.

Kilicdaroglu, in turn, accused Russia of meddling in the country’s election to support Erdogan, citing “concrete information.” His leader’s camp accused Russia of fabricating deepfake sex videos that forced another presidential candidate to withdraw from the race. The Kremlin staunchly rejected the accusation, calling Kilicdaroglu’s sources "liars."

Asked whether they believe the opposition's accusations that Russia fabricated videos to target opposition candidates, only 21% of respondents said they did, while 40% said they did not and 39% said they didn’t know. 

An electorate of more than 61 million at home is eligible to vote in Sunday’s runoff, but both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu's camps fear that the race could be marked by voter apathy and are calling on their supporters to cast their ballots. The May 14 elections saw more than 88% voter turnout. 

The Al-Monitor/Premise poll found that 6% of respondents do not plan to vote in the runoff elections. The figure is lower than the number of respondents who said they did not vote on May 14.

The poll found 14% of respondents will not vote for the same candidate they voted for in the first round. More than 77% of the respondents said they would vote for the same candidate.

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