It’s not the economy, stupid
This is not to say that economics is not important. Academic studies consistently find that the economy matters a great deal in elections, as Clinton campaign strategist James Carville famously noted during the 1992 U.S. presidential race.
The last three Turkish elections provide the ultimate litmus test. Turkey entered the 2007 July general elections with favorable economic conditions. The first signs of a slowdown appeared in the summer of 2008, mainly due to domestic factors. The economy then hit its nadir, in terms of growth and unemployment, around the 2009 March local elections.
Although first-quarter growth will be released at the end of this month, and we only have unemployment figures until March, leading indicators hint that the economy could have as well reached its zenith right before last week’s elections.
As such, the fact that the AKP’s votes decreased from 47 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2009 and then jumped back to 50 percent last week should maybe come as no surprise. I have been looking at polling company KONDA’s March 2009 and June 2011 surveys to gain more insight on voting preferences.
Both surveys have questions on which party the respondent would vote for and why. There are also questions about who respondents voted for in the 2007 general elections as well as questions on economic and political perceptions and control questions.
The votes the AKP “lost” in 2009 seem to have resulted almost entirely from the worsening economic conditions. Stating that her living standards had worsened since the 2007 general elections was the only factor that can explain a former AKP voter’s decision not to go for the party in 2009. This relationship is especially strong among older and more educated respondents. Researchers using provincial and survey data have found similar results for the 1995 and 2007 elections.
But it is nevertheless remarkable that the AKP could muster support from nearly 40 percent of the electorate despite such unfavorable economic conditions in 2009. Moreover, the voting model developed by Ali Akarca and Aysıt Tansel, which includes growth and inflation as economic variables, underestimated the AKP’s vote last week by more than 5 percent. So maybe, there is more to Turkish elections than just the economy. Again, KONDA surveys offer clues.
First, there is the Erdoğan factor: According to KONDA polls, the tendency to vote for a party because of its leader is much stronger in the AKP than in other parties. Moreover, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s charms have grown, as more than half of AKP supporters now say that they vote for him.
Second, nearly 40 percent of respondents consider themselves right wing, compared to 20 percent who are left wingers, so the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, is starting with a much lower voter base. However, their cause is not lost, as the remaining 40 percent are like Beşiktaş’s Ricardo Quaresma: They can play either wing.
When seen in this way, the CHP could be considered successful in the elections despite the consensus opinion to the contrary. As for the AKP, they have the economy, voter political tendencies and Erdoğan to thank for their success.
Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Follow his blog at http://www.economonitor.com/emredeliveli/.