Poll shows Erdogan's popularity has taken a hit. Could he lose his mandate?

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's approval rating has dropped almost 10 points since December, with a sharp decline since he began cracking down on protesters in Istanbul. 

Dado Ruvic/Reuters
Turkey Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is pictured after his speech during conference in Ankara, June 18. After weeks of clashes between protesters and police in Istanbul and around the country, Erdogan has seen a measurable drop in popularity, poll shows.

After weeks of clashes between protesters and police in Istanbul and around the country, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has seen a measurable drop in popularity, according to MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center.

Though Mr. Erdogan still has the support of more than half of those polled, the numbers indicate that he is not immune from losing his majority if the unrest continues.

The center found that he has steadily lost popularity since last December, when he enjoyed a 62.3 percent approval rating. In April Erdogan's job approval dropped to 60.8 percent and in the most recent survey it fell to 53.5 percent. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has lost only one percentage point since last April and a number of opposition parties increased by 1 to 3 percent in popularity.

Erdogan, whose party won 50 percent of the vote in the country’s last election in 2011, has used that sweeping victory as a mandate to push through a number of policies unpopular with the other half of the country who did not vote for him. The recent poll indicates he may have trouble advancing his agenda going forward.

“In my opinion this is a very big drop,” says Ozer Sencar, general director of MetroPOLL, explaining the prime minister’s loss in popularity. “If the prime minister can’t understand this young generation, the opposition will increase, but if he understands these young people and creates solutions to these problems, he will manage the problem.”

Turks will next cast their ballots in 2014 local elections and again in general elections in 2015. Based on his findings, Mr. Sencar says Erdogan and the AKP may be surprised by the number of voters that shift to rival parties.

Protests in Turkey erupted nearly three weeks ago when police used excessive force to break up a peaceful sit-in to protect Istanbul’s Gezi Park from commercial development. The survey found that 62.9 percent of respondents would prefer to keep Gezi Park as it is, while just 23.3 percent favored the plan to develop it, and the remaining 13.8 percent had no response.

At the core of protesters’ complaints is the behavior of the government, which demonstrators say has become more authoritarian than democratic. For the first time in its recent survey MetroPOLL asked if respondents shared this sentiment.

It found that 49.9 percent of those surveyed said they worried the government was becoming more authoritarian.

To conduct the poll, the center interviewed 2,818 people nationwide from June 3 to 13 with a 2 percent margin of error. Police broke up the sit-in at Gezi Park, triggering nationwide protests, on May 31.

Erdogan has downplayed protests, blaming everyone from the foreign media to twitter. On Sunday he told a crowd of hundreds or thousands of supporters that his “patience has run out” with the demonstrations.

While the crowds Sunday made clear that he still has his plenty of support, he seems unlikely to come out of these protests unscathed.

“If Gezi Park protests and these clashes are ongoing, I think many people cannot support AKP party,” says Yusuf Cinar, president of Strategic Outlook, a Turkish think tank in Konya, Turkey.  “Turkey has a democracy and elections, so the government didn’t need to show their power, it was unnecessary in my opinion.”

Still there remains a strong possibility that even if Erdogan and his party suffer a substantial loss of support, he will be able to win reelection in 2015. When he was first elected in 2002, he came into office with just 34 percent of the vote, and those who’ve taken to the streets in protest remain fragmented and thus far unable to produce a unity candidate capable of effectively challenging Erdogan.

“There is no concrete platform that will embrace all of these people. It’s a matter of organization, it’s a matter of a single leadership, it’s a matter of unity of purpose. Apart from being against Tayyip Erdogan, I don’t think there is anything that binds them,” says Umit Cizre, the director of the Center for Modern Turkish Studies at Istanbul Sehir University. Still, adds that opposition groups have gained confidence in their ability to affect the political agenda. “Something has changed in the air,” she says.

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