The polls are wrong: one in two Turks won’t vote AKP

A 52 percent poll lead does not mean one in every two Turks would vote AK tomorrow.

A year ago, Turkey’s AK Party won a third successive term in government. The victory came as no surprise; that they increased their share of the vote to just under 50 percent took most commentators aback. A poll by Konsensus in Haberturk last weekend suggested that, in the event an of an election tomorrow, they would repeat the feat, increasing their share further still. The headline result was AKP 51.6 / CHP 26.8 / MHP 12.7 / BDP 5.0, virtually unchanged since the last Konsensus poll three months ago.

This does not mean one in every two Turks would vote AK in a hypothetical election tomorrow, because the results are more opaque than you might think. Pollsters in Turkey have a habit of sharing out respondents who do not express a voting preference among all the parties proportionally. This gives everyone a nice, round number out of 100, but it inflates the support of each party and effectively ignores anyone who hasn’t made their mind up.

In the same Konsensus poll, the undistributed result (with changes from their March survey) was AKP 43.1 (-4.7) / CHP 22.4 (-3.2) / MHP 10.6 (-1.7) / BDP 4.2 (-1.0). Far from an increase, the trend here suggests a decline in support for all parties, with AK and CHP hit the hardest. This is the lowest Konsensus has polled for AK since before last year’s election.

More interesting is the number of those non-committal voters – those who were undecided, or would spoil their ballot, or not vote at all – which this month came in at 16.4 percent. It suggests one in every six voters has not made up their mind – that’s twice as many as the last survey. In fact, Konsensus hasn’t reported such a high proportion of voter apathy for a year-and-a-half, well before the last election.

Now, part of this is because of time: the last election is long gone, the next is a couple of years away, and politics simply won’t register with as many people. The fact that all parties have suffered losses suggests this may well be the case. But the CHP and AK Party losses are significantly larger, which could point to greater disappointment in the larger parties. It is difficult to establish how statistically significant the drop in AK and CHP support is without looking at a trend – which means more polling, please.

That said, the “apathy vote” should not be overblown. All pollsters, even those hostile to the government, are showing a solid AK Party lead fuelled by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s personal popularity. It would easily win that hypothetical election tomorrow, even if we can’t say by how much.

Konsensus’s other headling-grabbing finding was the answer to “Who should succeed Abdullah Gül as President?”, which Mr Erdoğan topped for the first time. Fatih Altaylı, writing in Haberturk, argues that public awareness of the president’s role has greatly increased and that Mr Erdoğan’s high approval ratings have made him a sure bet for the role, able to claim it “without moving a finger”.

Of course, things can change in an instant, and that instant might come this week, when the Constitutional Court is due to rule on the length of President Gül’s term. The government had set it at a single term of seven years, but the CHP argued this didn’t tally with the earlier 2007 referendum, where Turkish voters endorsed two terms of five years for their president, and took it to the court.

The ruling is due on Friday. Ali Rıza Çoban, the rapporteur, has already submitted his report, which found that the president’s term should be seven years, but preventing him from seeking re-election for another five would be unconstitutional.

The report is only advisory; it will be the court judges who make the decision. It won’t be an easy choice, though, as it could spell a potential twelve years in office for Mr Gül, taking him to 2019. That wouldn’t poll well with Mr Erdoğan.

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  1. Smart thoughts as usual, James, but it’s pretty standard in strategic research to not ask people who say they definitely won’t vote in the next election a vote question and factor those folks out (on the assumption that limited resourced won’t be spent on persuading people who won’t vote anyway). Figuring out who’s going to vote is usually more of an art than a science but is still important for media polls in the business of predicting outcomes to figure out how do that skillfully,

    It is not, as you correctly point out, however, standard to apportion undecided votes to the parties proportionately. It usually doesn’t work that way in real voting life – except in the final days of an election.

    Knowing who’s undecided is critical for persuasion efforts and smart campaigns don’t ignore that data point. As you note, if that number is increasing this far out it says there’s something important going on in the political environment (that said, polls this far in advance of an election shouldn’t be used to predict anything on election day).

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