Public perceptions on Turkish foreign policy

05 Aralık 2013

Bu yazı 05.12.2013 tarihinde Hurriyet Daily News Gazetesi'nde yayımlanmıştır.

The volatility of the neighboring countries and impulsive positions taken by the policy makers have profoundly disturbed Turkey’s foreign policy since the beginning of the Arab spring. Avoiding its ever-changing and easily consumed policy pronouncements, ranging from “zero-problem with neighbors” via “regional order builder” to “precious loneliness,” Turkey’s relations with its neighboring countries, as well as in international arena deserve deeper research. Part of such a research should gauge public perception as its support factors in the success of any given policy line in democratic societies. One of the ways to do so is conducting public surveys and Türkiye Araştırmaları Merkezi of Kadir Has University has just produced one, talking to 1000 people from 26 cities. The outcomes of the survey provide important data for policy-makers and analysts. The results of the survey can be accessed at the University’s website

Though the survey looks into several issues from the implementation of Turkish foreign policy to relations with the U.S., the EU, Greece, Syria, and Iran, as well as public perceptions about Turkey’s membership to NATO, the EU, and Shanghai Cooperation organization, the most striking outcomes are related to the Middle East.

Although Turkish foreign policy in general was considered “successful” by 64 percent of the respondents (successful 25.1 and partly successful 38.9 percent), the percentage of people that considered the government policies towards the Middle East a “success” dramatically decreased from 37.7 percent in January 2012 to 35.4 percent in January 2013 and 26.7 percent today.

According to the survey, the majority of the respondents (%65.5) see the Syrian conflict as the agenda setting problem in Turkish foreign policy, followed by fighting against terrorism with 9.9 percent. Syria also appears as a threat to Turkey with 23.9 percent, coming after usual suspects; the U.S. and Israel, with 41.7 and 31.7 percent respectively. In contrast to the government’s policy of supporting opposition groups against the al-Assad regime, the Turkish public clearly supports a neutral position with 41.7 percent, slightly less than the results of the January 2013 survey. Only 5.2 percent of the respondents, down from 11.4 percent in January 2013, are in favor of supporting the armed opposition, while around 24.1 percent of the respondents support the government’s overall policy in Syria.

On the other hand, public support for an international intervention in Syria is increasing, probably because of the growing security problems along the Turkish-Syrian border. Those opposing an international intervention decreased from 36.5 percent in January to 23.4 percent.

The survey also revealed the government and citizens’ perceptions on the current situation in Egypt are also diverging; only 29.8 percent of the respondents support the government’s overall policy in Egypt. While 46.4 percent favors the idea of recognizing the new government, 30.6 percent completely opposes such a move.

Turkey’s active involvement in other Middle Eastern problems, such as the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Iranian nuclear issue, as a mediator or in a similar role is also not supported by the respondents.

Finally, in contrast to the latest TESEV (Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation) survey, which showed the support of the Middle Eastern public for Turkey as a role model decreased from 61 percent in 2011 to 51 percent, the Turkish public still thinks overwhelmingly (71.9 percent) that Turkey could become a model for Muslim countries.

Surveys are useful tools for policy makers and analysts to judge the public support for any given policy; and in democracies, no government could afford to ignore public demands for long.