Surveys Show: Almost Half of the Turks Consider Germany a Threat
How we judge a country and its people depends to a large extent on the coverage in the media. This also applies to Turkey. All too often, negative news and correspondingly colored comments are in the foreground. This is not surprising, because developments in the country on the Bosporus give little cause for whitewashing.
Be it in domestic politics, where critics never tire of bemoaning the slide into authoritarian one-man rule tailored entirely to the person of the president. Or in foreign policy, where Ankara's aggressive pretense sometimes violates the limits of international law, as recently in the case of the extension of the maritime borders in the Mediterranean at the expense of EU members Greece and Cyprus.
Independent surveys are not a matter of course in Turkey
Opinion polls provide the material to overcome the entanglement with the actions of the powerful in politics, business and society. Opinion researchers can literally fathom the mood of the population on any topic. Opinion surveys also play an important role in Turkey: however, they often suffer from the fact that the handwriting of the clients is evident, and objectivity is not guaranteed.
The "Turkey Trends", an annual survey published by the private Istanbul Kadir Has University, is considered to be a comparatively reliable and independent survey.
This representative survey is a treasure trove of systematic information on the attitudes and opinions of the Turkish population on important political, economic and social issues. In addition to the approval ratings for the most important politicians and a ranking of the country's problems that are central in the eyes of the population, the survey results on Turkish foreign relations and the attitudes of the population in this regard are particularly relevant.
Erdogan remains at the top
According to the survey, President Erdogan was also the "most successful" Turkish politician in 2019. Therefore, almost 46 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion about the first man in the state. Compared to the result of 2017 - when the Kadir Has researchers determined an approval rate of 56 percent for Erdogan - this is a significant decrease.
The numbers refer to the political polarization in Turkey: on the one hand, the pro-Erdogan camp, on the other hand, the opponents. As political elections decide the future of the country at the end of the day - here Turkey is miles away from single-party dictatorships in other parts of the world - fluctuations in approval rates are of considerable importance. Quite apart from the fact that the government is using all kinds of illiberal tricks to weaken or coldcock its opponents.
Not only is the president's popularity declining, but the approval ratings for the leader of the main opposition party CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, are also pointing downwards: 29 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion of the politician in 2019, compared with 35 percent two years earlier.
In the wake of the opposition parties' good results in last year's local elections, the newly elected mayors of the metropolises of Istanbul and Ankara - both of which belong to the opposition - have stepped into the national (and international) spotlight. Istanbul's mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, is seen as a beacon of hope for the opposition and a possible challenger to Erdogan. More than 39 percent of those surveyed said Imamoglu did a good job, and the supporters of the CHP are by no means the only ones.
The figures for the mayor of Ankara, who is also a member of the opposition, are significantly better than those of Imamoglu, who is also courted abroad: 60 percent of respondents believe that Mansur Yavas is doing a good job. There is also considerable support for the local politician among AKP supporters: 32 percent say that Ankara's new city father is doing a good job.
Room for new powers?
After almost 20 years in power, there is rumbling in the lap of the Turkish government party. Opinion pollsters are also concerned about the phenomena of depositions in the leadership and splits or party formations. When asked whether there is a need for new political parties, almost twenty percent of those questioned answered "yes". There is, therefore, potential for party dissidents.
The ideological preferences are interesting. Although a majority of Turks classify themselves as religious, nationalistic or conservative, more than 50 percent think that a new party should be located in the "political center", while almost 30 percent prefer a new party in the left spectrum.
With the founding of his "Future Party" the former Prime Minister - and Erdogan critic - Ahmet Davutoglu has already created facts. The foundation of another new party by the former Minister of Economy - and AKP defector - Ali Babacan is only a matter of time, the Turkish press says. According to the Kadir Has survey, 9 percent of respondents can imagine voting for Davutoglu's party; the corresponding figure for Babacan is 8 percent.
In view of the narrow majorities in the course of polarization, the newly founded parties could become the tip of the scales in future elections. But there is a long way to go until then. The next elections are scheduled for 2023, even if speculations about early new elections do not want to end.
Hardly any friends in the world
President Erdogan has also attracted international attention with his sometimes aggressive foreign policy. According to the study, 29 percent of Turks think that Ankara's foreign policy is successful; in contrast, 33 percent think that the policy is not successful. This rather negative assessment fits in with the collective threat perception of the population: the vast majority of Turks see beyond the country's borders primarily enemies and opponents - and hardly any friends or partners. When asked which country threatens Turkey, the USA traditionally takes first place. Just under two thirds of those surveyed share this opinion.
In the list of countries that threaten Turkey in the eyes of the population, Israel, the United Kingdom and France follow. Remarkably, 44 percent of the Turks surveyed believe that Germany also poses a threat. According to the study, the negative value for Germany in 2018 was over 50 percent.
The flipside of these collective perceptions of threat is shown by the answers to the question about Turkey's friends: Here, Azerbaijan alone manages to achieve a value of over 50 percent! Germany scores just under 15 percent in this category. Putin's Russia holds 23 percent of Turks to be a friendly nation. From a German perspective, this is a miserable result - and also a result of the many crises in bilateral relations in recent years.
Finally, a word about EU membership: in 2019, 51 percent of those who responded said they were in favor; in 2014, the rate of EU supporters was over 71 percent. Whether they think that Turkey's full membership has a chance of realization, only 29 percent answer "yes". This shows considerable potential for frustration. This obviously also affects relations with Germany, the European powerhouse.
Dr. Ronald Meinardus is Project Director of the Foundation's office in Turkey, which is based in Istanbul.
This article was first published at Focus.de on 31.01.2020.
The full report about the research is available in English here.