- 36% of Turkish adults approve of their country’s leadership
- Almost three in four Turks (73%) say local economy is getting worse
- Turks’ wellbeing indicators have declined since before the 2018 election
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Millions of voters will go to the polls on May 14 in what many see as the most significant election in Türkiye in decades. With the vote taking place just three months after a series of earthquakes killed over 50,000 and left more than a million homeless, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a formidable challenge in being reelected.
Quick Summary: Erdogan has been a mainstay of Turkish politics for years and holds a reputation as a serial winner for the Justice and Development Party (AKP). He rose to power two decades ago on the back of an economic crisis after a devastating earthquake in 1999. In 2023, he is now facing similar challenges.
At his height, Erdogan was hugely popular, winning a string of presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as three referendums. But in the past two years, he has seen his support wane. In 2022, 36% of Turkish adults approved of their country’s leadership -- one of the lowest figures since 2009.
National polls indicate a close race in a deeply polarized country. Opposition parties have coalesced around the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The main pro-Kurdish party -- the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) -- is not fielding a candidate in order to create a more united front against the incumbent. In previous elections, the HDP has been seen as a “kingmaker” in close races.
A more united opposition is not the only threat to Erdogan’s presidency. Structural economic challenges, declining faith in Türkiye’s democratic system and fallout from the earthquake are set to define the outcome of this election.
Turks Deeply Pessimistic About Economy: Türkiye’s economy was faltering long before the quake because of unorthodox monetary policy that sent inflation soaring. The lira has lost around 80% of its value against the dollar in the past five years.
In light of these strong headwinds, Turks’ optimism about the economy hit a record low in 2022, with 11% saying the local economy is getting better and 73% saying it is getting worse.
High inflation has hit living standards hard. For the first few years of Erdogan’s presidency, more Turks felt their living standards were improving than declining. That trend has reversed decisively in recent years.
Turks feel less optimistic about their economy than most populations around the world. In only six countries or areas -- Lebanon, Afghanistan, Northern Cyprus, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Liberia -- are people more likely than Turks to say their local economy is getting worse.
Turks Lack Confidence in Their Leadership: The Türkiye of 2022 was a different country from the one in 2017, the year before the last presidential election. Aside from broader economic issues, Turks were less likely to approve of their leadership and had less confidence in their national government and the honesty of elections in 2022 than in 2017.
Young Turks are particularly disillusioned, with their confidence in the national government and electoral integrity both reaching record lows (34% and 28%, respectively) in Gallup trends dating back to 2005.
In addition to the increasingly negative views of Türkiye’s political system, far more Turks are living worse lives than in 2017. The proportion of Turks who rate their own lives poorly enough to be considered “suffering” in life has risen from 13% to 21%, and the prevalence of negative emotions -- including anger, stress, sadness, worry and pain -- has shot up.
These findings came before the devastating earthquakes in February 2023. Turks’ wellbeing indicators may well decline further this year as a result of the disaster. Regardless, the resulting humanitarian catastrophe, and the government’s response to it, are likely to be front and center of voters’ minds.
The race to the presidency is on a knife edge. Recent opinion polls have shown a slim margin between the two main candidates. Erdogan faces the challenge of his political life to hold onto power and win yet another ballot. Even before the devastating earthquakes in February, public perceptions of the economy, the country’s political leadership and their own general wellbeing were already worsening.
This election’s result will set the direction for Türkiye’s long road to recovery following the quakes. Taking place 100 years since the foundation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s secular republic, the outcome of this historic election will set the tone as Türkiye -- and its 85 million people -- forges its path into the next century.
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