Erdoğan wants to get closer to Turkish youth. The precise date of the next elections of 2023 in Turkey remains undecided, nevertheless the political actors are already positioning themselves to win them. However, a group of crucial importance often escapes the analyzes of this determining election for the future of the country, the young people. It is estimated that 6 million of them between the ages of 18 and 21 will vote for the first time in 2023, which represents about 10 to 12% of registered voters in Turkey. It should also be noted that among the 62.4 million registered voters, 13 million belong to “Generation Z”, from which stems, again, the importance of young people for the outcome of these elections. Undoubtedly, the political parties in Turkey, and in particular the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, Justice and Development Party), are aware of the political stakes of this factor, but it is difficult to affirm that they manage to seduce this volatile electorate. In this sense, several elements indicate the capacity of young people to contribute to a change in the next elections, but what do the vision and political behavior of young people tell us? What are their expectations and what is the nature of the relationship between these young people and the political parties in Turkey?
We must first specify the characteristics of the generation in Turkey. This cohort, that is to say all the people who have experienced a common demographic event during the same period, has known no other leader than Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the latter having been at the head of the country since 2002. In terms of political tendency, surveys conducted by Gezici Araştırma indicate that voters aged 18 to 25 contest the decisions of the AKP government concerning lifestyles, restrictions on freedom of expression or even censorship. media. In a word, the youth find it difficult to accept the moral order that the AKP wants to impose. The same research center also estimates that 80% of this age group will not vote for the AKP. According to MAK Consultance polls, the trend is the same in the 18-29 age group, which is demographically considered “young” in Turkey: 70% of young people support the opposition. Moreover, notwithstanding the conservative politics that ruled the country for twenty years, the youth in Turkey rather aspires to Western concepts and secular values. This leads them to compare themselves with young people of their age in the West in terms of economic expectations and they are therefore less convinced by the AKP’s discourse on economic developments.
As for the electoral polls, they reflect an expectation of change and a marked divergence from the power that has ruled the country throughout their lives. However, the predictions of their behavior are blurred by the inability of the opposition parties to convince them. The poll carried out by ORC Araştırma, at the end of July 2022, in 51 provinces of Turkey, questioning the voters who will vote for the first time, indicates that the AKP will be the third party with 11.9% of the votes while the CHP ( Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, Republican People’s Party) receives 22.5%, and İYİ (İyi Party, The Good Party) 18.6%. Yöneylem Araştırma’s polls, carried out in mid-May 2022, indicate relatively similar trends with 36.9% for the CHP, 21.2% for the AKP, and 9% for the HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, Democratic Party Peoples). What is however remarkable in the two polls is the proportion of “undecided” which constitute 27% in ORC Araştırma and 13% in Yöneylem Araştırma which also displays the 7.1% who answered “I will not vote”. This highlights the unpredictability of the youth vote and thus makes the outcome of these elections more undecided. Indeed, despite the fact that young people want a change, a significant part remains skeptical about the ability of the opposition parties to succeed in solving problems such as unemployment, education and freedom of expression.
Turnout in Turkey is always high regardless of the nature of the elections, almost always around 80% at the general and local level. In the last legislative elections of 2018, therefore in the new presidential system, the rate was 86.24% and in the local elections of 2019 it was 84.37%. With regard to the phenomenon of electoral abstention which has been on the rise within the European Union in recent years, particularly among young people, Turkey seems to be paradoxically spared for the moment. Research carried out at the end of 2019 on political participation reveals that for almost 90% of young people in Turkey (35 years and under) voting remains important, which slightly exceeds the proportion of other voters. Several academic studies also highlight a phenomenon of (re)politicization of Turkish youth who fell victim to the policy of depoliticization carried out following the 1980 coup.
Although this group has been considered a significant political actor since the Gezi protests in 2013, the question regarding the democratizing potential of this phenomenon remains debated. It is difficult to conceive of youth as a homogeneous block in a society as complex and unequal as that of Turkey. Research shows that the partisan choices of the Turkish electorate are largely determined by socio-economic backgrounds, educational inequalities and extreme polarization in society. Young people are not entirely immune to these sociological and electoral characteristics. The participants in the demonstrations in opposition to the government, in particular that of Gezi, remain mainly the urbanized and educated young people. In addition, the surveys currently conducted do not provide information regarding the social origins of the participants.
While youth appears as a non-homogeneous sociological group, which is divided by socio-economic and ideological factors, its ability to influence the outcome of the 2023 elections leads parties to take into account the aspirations of this particular group. Similarly, President Erdoğan also seems to be aware of the issue and is trying to improve his party’s relationship with the youth. This is visible in the increasing number of “meetings with youth” since 2020. However, for the moment, the initiatives of Erdoğan wants to get closer to Turkish youth. seem to have rather limited success. One incident during these encounters in particular demonstrated this strained relationship. The live video conference between Erdoğan and the youth in 2020, posted on YouTube and Twitter, was marked by thousands of “No Vote” comments and more than 200,000 “dislikes”. This led to officials shutting down the show to comments while the hashtag “#OyMoyYok” (“No Vote”) became a trending topic on Twitter. Since then, AKP initiatives aimed at young people have remained more restricted and controlled. Thus, the student protests in 2021 following the appointment of the rector of Boğaziçi University and the violent police response only exacerbated the tense relationship between part of the youth and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Thus, the youth is one of the decisive groups for the results of the 2023 elections which will decide the future that the country will choose in this centenary of the Republic. It is a group that remains undecided and whose choices are difficult to predict. What is however unmistakable is the oppositional and politicized character of the youth who yearn for a different Turkey.