Election Storm in Turkey: What Do the Results of June and November 2015 Elections Tell Us?

By Carkoglu, Ali; Yildirim, Kerem | Insight Turkey, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Election Storm in Turkey: What Do the Results of June and November 2015 Elections Tell Us?


Carkoglu, Ali, Yildirim, Kerem, Insight Turkey


Introduction

Turkey has been rocked by an election storm. In less than two years since March 2014, the country has had four elections, the most recent taking place on November 1st, 2015. The ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or AK Party) won three consecutive elections in 2002, 2007 and 2011 by continuously increasing its vote share from about 34 percent to nearly 50 percent; in doing so it became a rare example of a predominant party in a competitive democracy. (1) Following the local and presidential elections in March and August 2014, the AK Party incurred its first significant electoral loss in June 2015, leading to a parliamentary outlook that did not allow for the formation of any government. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan eventually took the decision to hold early or "repeat" elections which eventually led the AK Party to recover its losses in November 2015.

This Turkish election storm is significant in many respects. We will touch upon a selection of issues that the Turkish experience could shed light upon. First, we show how a predominant party builds its electoral base, loses, and then recovers votes to consolidate its support base. We show geographical patterns of voting across the country to illustrate how the electoral scene shifted in less than four months. Second, we illustrate the power and limitations of performance politics as a force that shapes electoral outcomes in contexts where security concerns override concerns about economic and social policy performance. We argue that lacking or diminished influence of performance politics is inherently harmful for Turkish democracy and given the divided nature of the electorate a consensus building approach to policy reform and constitution writing is more likely to succeed.

The Results of the June and November 2015 General Elections

Figure 1 summarizes the developments in the electoral scene for local, parliamentary and presidential elections since 2002. This familiar scene shows how the AK Party increased its vote share in consecutive elections in a zigzag pattern. In the initial phase a respectable 34 percent support was expanded to reach nearly 42 percent in the local elections of 2004. In the aftermath of the political turmoil prior to the 2007 elections, AK Party support was already about 47 percent. When the AK Party support was on the rise, mass public evaluations concerning the economic policy performance of the incumbent party was steadily high and even improving.

The first electoral challenge to the AK Party's tenure came with the global economic crisis that arose just prior to the 2009 local elections, leading to about eight percentage points of electoral support decline. The AK Party recovered from this decline by continuously improving its economic condition evaluations within the mass electorate. By the 2011 parliamentary elections the recovery was more than complete and the AK Party scored a record-breaking level of support, reaching almost 50 percent of the valid votes with about 21.4 million total votes.

By the time of the 2014 local elections, AK Party performance had led to a decline in electoral support, pushing the level of support down to about 43 percent. It was clear however, that even in times of crisis with local electoral forces in play, AK Party support was still higher than its original 34 percent by about 9 percentage points. Even in one of the worst electoral contexts, the number of AK Party votes in provincial council elections was about 17.8 million, up by more than 4.4 million votes compared to the 2004 local elections.

Then came the presidential elections of August 2014. This was the first ever popular election for the Turkish presidency. So, the whole party system was unprepared for a suis generis electoral campaign necessitated by the presidential election. The coalition determined the direction of the campaign in total rejection of the fact that this was a watershed election for the future of the country. …

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