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Turks Grew Discontent With Leaders, Freedom Before Unrest

Turks Grew Discontent With Leaders, Freedom Before Unrest

by Nathan Wendt

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With protests in Turkey continuing for nearly two weeks, Gallup data reveal trends in residents' opinions that could be the undercurrents of the recent unrest. The most telling of these trends is Turks' growing dissatisfaction with their country's leadership -- particularly among those living in Istanbul. The percentage of Turks living in Istanbul who approve of the job performance of their country's leadership fell to 30% in 2012, from 59% in 2011. Among those living elsewhere in the country, leadership approval declined to 48% in 2012, from 57% in 2011.


The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become the focus of the protests initially sparked by plans to build a shopping mall on a park in Istanbul. Some observers have characterized the protests as a backlash against Erdogan's autocratic leadership style -- a sentiment the antigovernment protestors are echoing, according to news reports.

Approval of Erdogan's government spiked in 2011, the year Turks re-elected the prime minister for a third term. Erdogan's government has presided over strong economic growth; Turkey has averaged 5% annual GDP growth over the past decade. What's more, Turks' satisfaction with the availability of good jobs in the country has improved over the past two years -- climbing to 40% in March 2012 and 44% in June 2012, from 33% in 2010 and 37% in 2011 -- and mostly outpaced its neighbors in the region.

However, 45% of Turks in 2012 said they were satisfied with their freedom to choose what they do with their life -- ranking the country 130 out of 140 countries on this measure in 2012. Regionally, Turkey is now similar to Syria (40%) and Egypt (44%) on this item.


Most Turks Support Freedom of Speech, Assembly

Thousands of protestors in Turkey are currently exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly. Most Turks support the protestors' rights to do so. More than eight in 10 Turks in 2012 said they would agree with the inclusion of a freedom of speech provision if they were asked to help draft a new constitution for a new country. Further, 76% of Turks said they would agree with the inclusion of a freedom of assembly provision in a theoretical new constitution for a new country.


Regionally, Approval of Turkey's Leadership Varied Prior to Protests

Many analysts and observers view Turkey as a model nation for the Middle East politically, culturally, and economically. But, the ongoing antigovernment protests could imperil Prime Minister Erdogan's largely positive image as a regional leader.

In the Middle East, approval of Turkey's leadership varies. In some nations, approval has declined. In the Palestinian Territories, approval of Turkey's leadership fell to 44% in 2012, from 50% in 2011. In Algeria, approval fell to 51% last year, from 59% in 2011.

In other nations, Turkey's leadership approval has increased. For example, in Egypt, approval of Turkey's leadership rose to 33% in 2012, from 24% in 2011.


Bottom Line

Despite Turkey's strong economic growth, residents' approval of their country's leadership started slipping prior to the recent protests. This downward trend in approval ratings suggests the sentiment antigovernment protestors are expressing reflects a growing sense of frustration among the broader Turkish population. In particular, many residents expressed dissatisfaction with freedom to choose what they do with their lives; the protests could reflect any tendency Turks may have to blame their leadership for that lack of freedom.

In addition to grappling with eroding support in Turkey, Erdogan may also be at risk of declining regional support. Depending on how he responds to protesters' concerns, Erdogan could test his regional popularity.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 2,000 adults in Turkey, aged 15 and older, conducted in March and June 2012.

For results based on the total sample in 2012, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.

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