Public opinion in TurkeyDreaming of a greater republic
Opinion polls provide information on the moods and preferences of the population. It is common for polls to play a role in debates on controversial issues and influence the formation of political opinion and will. The topics are wide-ranging; political polls often focus on the popularity of political parties and their leaders. But foreign and security policy issues are also a subject of opinion polls.
The Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), which has close ties to the SPD, has published a study entitled "2022 Security Radar. Navigating the Disarray of European Security", which maps the attitudes of the population to central foreign and security policy issues in 14 countries.
Research on the sub-studies on Armenia, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, the United States of America and Turkey, among others, was completed before Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine began. It is safe to assume that some of the results would be different today in light of the new global political situation and changed threat perceptions. Nevertheless, the study contains interesting findings that merit attention going forward.
This is especially true for the figures from Turkey: the FES study confirms the image of a country dissatisfied with the current status quo and a government that is striving to revise it. "The vast majority of Turkish respondents (82 percent) are dissatisfied with the international status of their country," the study states. Even more remarkable - to use a neutral term - is the following finding: "Many Turkish respondents believe that a number of territories beyond (Turkey's) borders actually belong to Turkey. Fifty-six percent agree," the study says verbatim. Only in Armenia is support for an irredentist foreign policy (Ed.: a foreign policy that claims territories outside the country for the nation) higher, the authors of the study write.
Positive attitude towards the military
The report also underlines the positive attitude of Turkish respondents towards the military. What's more, four out of five Turks believe Ankara should assume a more active role in the world, while 56 percent of those surveyed see the military involved in this. This is "by far" the highest figure in all 14 countries surveyed, according to the authors of a study by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) entitled "2022 Security Radar. Navigating the Disarray of European Security". It examined the attitudes of the population in the 14 countries to central foreign and security policy issues. Given the high level of support for an active role of the military in foreign policy, it is not surprising that 61 percent of Turkish respondents think the government should spend more money on armaments. On this point, too, Turkey – after Armenia – tops the list of the 14 countries surveyed.
This widespread approval of high military spending comes at a time when, according to opinion polls, a large majority of respondents are very worried about the economic future. Yet, it is not only the economic outlook that unsettles people. "Compared to other countries in the survey, Turks are far more worried that wars and other conflicts will directly affect their country than others – 84 percent admitted to being concerned."
Friend or foe?
The figures for people's attitudes towards the United States are also remarkable. U.S.-Turkish relations have experienced their ups and downs in recent years; at the moment, however, there are signs of a diplomatic upgrading with far-reaching geostrategic implications for the region. That said, America is by no means popular in Anatolia: a majority in Turkey (55 percent) considers Western leadership a security risk.
According to the results of the survey, public support for deepening relations with Russia and China is higher than for improving relations with Washington.
The team of researchers commissioned by the German foundation to investigate attitudes among the Turkish population on foreign and security policy issues is not alone in its work. The compendium #TurkeyTrends, published annually in spring by Professor Mustafa Aydin of Istanbul's Kadir Has University, is considered a standard work for Turkey observers at home and abroad with an interest in people's opinions on foreign policy. The FES data and the Kadir Has figures reveal some partial correlations and no contradictions, which may also be due to the fact that the questions asked were different.
The Kadir Has survey also confirms the negative image of the USA. According to Kadir Has, almost 57 percent of those surveyed see the Western superpower as a threat. Only Armenia and Israel fare worse in this list, two countries that, interestingly enough, top the list of countries with which President Erdogan is seeking a fresh diplomatic start.
One third considers Germany a "friend"
Also worth reading is the table of Turkey's allies and friends, or the countries that respondents rate in this way. Traditionally, the neighbouring country Azerbaijan tops this list. Northern Cyprus, occupied by Turkish troops and recognised only by Ankara, once again takes second place among the "allies" in the current survey. It is followed by Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Germany – which has made a big leap forward in this ranking and which more than 30 percent of respondents now consider a "friend" – as well as Pakistan and Qatar. Russia and Ukraine are more or less on a par, although this finding is also debatable in view of current developments: the popularity ratings for Russia moved significantly upwards between 2020 and 2021, while the ratings for Ukraine went down during the same period.
Much can be read into the opinion polls. The surveys were conducted before Putin's aggression against Ukraine, so it can be assumed that opinions within the Turkish population may well have shifted.
However, two poll findings on Turkish foreign policy are likely to occupy us even after the end of the war in Ukraine, in whatever form and whenever that may happen. Firstly, firm integration and connection to the West is anything but popular in Turkey. And secondly: many people dream of a Turkey that is greater than the sum of its current parts. We have none other than President Erdogan to thank for the strength of this mood.
© Qantara.de 2022
Dr. Ronald Meinardus is senior research fellow and director of the Mediterranean programme at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) in Athen.