Society, Politics, and Economy in Modern Turkey: Sociology of Turkey - Maintained by Tugrul Keskin
We are at a point in our work when we can no longer ignore empires and the imperial context in our studies. (p. 5)
― Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The AKP’s working class support base explains why the Turkish government has managed to retain its popularity during the country’s protests

Erik R. Tillman – DePaul University

The London School of Economics and Political Science - May 29, 2014

A number of anti-government protests have taken place in Turkey over the past year. Erik R. Tillman assesses the dynamics underpinning support for the ruling AKP government and its main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), during the unrest. He notes that although AKP has parallels with mainstream centre-right parties in Europe, its support base is built on working-class voters. He argues that as the protests largely articulated concerns associated with middle class voters, this ‘ideological reversal’ has so far helped to protect the AKP electorally. Nevertheless, the dynamics of the most recent protests over the mining disaster in Soma could pose a threat to the governing party as they are closely associated with its core working class support base.
During the past year, the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has faced a series of protests over its increasingly authoritarian style of governance and a series of scandals regarding alleged high-level corruption. However, Erdoğan does not appear to have lost significant popular support. In municipal elections on 30 March, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a comfortable plurality of the national vote.
How has the Erdoğan government retained its popularity in the face of these protests? An examination of the nature of mass party support in Turkey shows a reversed relationship between the apparent ideology of each major party and the social base of its support. The Gezi Park protests and subsequent outrage over alleged corruption have largely reflected the middle-class concerns of opposition supporters and have thus failed to shift the attitudes of many government supporters. If public outrage over the recent Soma mine disaster lingers, it could provide a more credible threat to the government’s popularity by shifting the attitudes of a core group of AKP voters.
In contemporary Turkish politics, there is little congruence between the stated ideologies of the two largest parties and their actual bases of mass support. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) describes itself as a conservative democratic party and is affiliated with the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists. Conversely, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) describes itself as a social democratic party and is affiliated with the Party of European Socialists. Normally, one would expect the AKP to have more support among middle class voters and the CHP to derive most of its support from working class voters. Virtually the opposite is true.


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