The Last Word with… Erik Till­man

Turkish Review - - REVIEWS CONFERENCE -

You have pre­vi­ously writ­ten that Turkey’s re­cent crack­down on the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK) is de­signed with pol­i­tics in mind. Can you please elab­o­rate on this state­ment and the ‘rally ’round the flag’ ef­fect? The “rally ’round the flag” ef­fect de­scribes an ob­served pat­tern of in­creased pub­lic sup­port for na­tional lead­ers dur­ing a diplo­matic or mil­i­tary cri­sis. This rally ef­fect is part of a gen­eral wave of pa­tri­o­tism or na­tion­al­ism. It may also re­sult from a feel­ing of threat, which leads more cit­i­zens to sup­port na­tional lead­ers in the hopes of keep­ing the coun­try safe. Fi­nally, it may re­sult from a ten­dency of op­po­si­tion lead­ers and the me­dia to re­frain from crit­i­cism of na­tional lead­ers dur­ing a cri­sis. The ex­is­tence of rally ef­fects is pretty well doc­u­mented, par­tic­u­larly in democ­ra­cies such as the US or the UK that have a long track record of re­li­able pub­lic opin­ion polling. The start of a cri­sis can cause a sub­stan­tial in­crease in the pub­lic ap­proval of a leader (e.g., pres­i­dent or prime min­is­ter) of more than 10 per­cent­age points.

In the present con­text, the tim­ing of the re-es­ca­la­tion of the PKK con­flict seems mo­ti­vated by elec­toral con­cerns. The Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AK Party) pri­mar­ily lost two sets of votes in the June 7 elec­tions (com­pared to 2011): Kur­dish vot­ers switched their sup­port to the pro-Kur­dish Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP) and con­ser­va­tive, na­tion­al­ist Turk­ish vot­ers switched their vote to the Na­tion­al­ist Move­ment Party (MHP). A re-es­ca­la­tion of the con­flict with PKK seems geared to­ward re­gain­ing the sup­port of this lat­ter group of vot­ers. In that sense, it may be the re­sult of self­im­posed con­straints. One rea­son for de­clin­ing AK Party sup­port is the un­pop­u­lar­ity of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan’s de­sire to cre­ate a “pres­i­den­tial” sys­tem. Since he wants to con­tinue to pur­sue this goal of ex­pand­ing his pres­i­den­tial pow­ers, he and the AK Party must find other ways of in­creas­ing their elec­toral sup­port. Be­cause rally ef­fects typ­i­cally only last for six to 12 months be­fore that in­creased sup­port be­gins to de­cay, it makes sense to go for­ward with early elec­tions in Novem­ber. How likely is it for the AK Party to in­crease its sup­port through rally ef­fects and hold on to a ma­jor­ity dur­ing the Nov. 1 elec­tions?

There are some caveats to the rally ef­fect that may be rel­e­vant in this case. First, I noted that one of the pro­posed causes of the rally ef­fect is that op­po­si­tion lead­ers and me­dia en­gage in self-re­straint dur­ing a cri­sis. That has not been the case in Turkey; op­po­si­tion lead­ers have ac­cused Er­doğan of manufacturing the cri­sis for his (and the AK Party’s) elec­toral ben­e­fit. So that has made it less likely that any­one who voted for the Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party (CHP) or the MHP would rally to the AK Party. Sec­ond, prior re­search has shown that rally ef­fects de­pend on trust in the leader. When cit­i­zens do not trust the leader, then they will not rally to sup­port him or her. Given how dis­trust­ful many op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers are of Er­doğan, it seems un­likely that many would switch their vote to sup­port him. Fi­nally, and re­lated to the pre­vi­ous two points, Turkey’s elec­torate seems very po­lar­ized. Those in­di­vid­u­als who switched from the AK Party to the MHP in the June 7 elec­tions may be per­suaded to re­turn their sup­port to the AK Party.

So, how could this strat­egy work for the AK Party? First, changes in elec­tion re­sults de­pend not only on vot­ers switch­ing their party loy­al­ties; they also de­pend on changes in turnout among dif­fer­ent groups of vot­ers. Given the ad­van­tages that the AK Party pos­sesses in con­trol of state resources and the me­dia, it may have an ad­van­tage mo­bi­liz­ing vot­ers for yet an­other elec­tion (the fourth in less than two years). Through con­tin­ued at­tacks on the HDP and its lead­ers, it may also seek to try to di­vide and de­mor­al­ize Kur­dish vot­ers. Sec­ond, there is also a darker side to this. Since the re-es­ca­la­tion of the con­flict, a num­ber of HDP lead­ers have been de­tained and a num­ber of ar­eas in the south­east of Turkey have been de­clared se­cu­rity zones. I think there is real cause for con­cern about the fair­ness of the up­com­ing elec­tion if it is con­ducted while ar­eas of HDP sup­port are un­der a form of emer­gency rule.

Fol­low Erik Till­man:

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