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.