We have often written here about the voting behavior of the diaspora of Turkish origin in Western Europe. The campaigner Erdogan was able to achieve his greatest voting successes in Germany and Austria in particular. One result was often integration policy debates in newspaper features.
The German Center for Integration and Migration Research conducted a survey among people of Turkish origin in Germany on the issue of voter motivation. The results do not show that the communities of Turkish origin are turning away from Germany; on the contrary, they show a great deal of solidarity with both Germany and Turkey, and the political interest in Turkey remains pronounced across generations. If the aim is to explain why so many people of Turkish origin in Germany go to the polls and vote for Erdogan, the debates on loyalty and integration do not go far enough, according to the authors of the study.
With regard to voting preferences, the study leaders see a connection between obvious experiences of discrimination, i.e. threats, harassment and insults, and a preference for the governing coalition under Erdogan. There is no statistically significant connection in the data between one’s own perception of being part of a group that is discriminated against in Germany or Turkey and voting preference. Therefore, the often asserted assumption that experiences of discrimination would drive voters into Erdogan’s arms can hardly be substantiated on the basis of the surveys.
The way in which people of Turkish origin rate the way the Turkish government deals with challenges such as the consequences of the severe earthquake in February 2023 or the tense economic situation is much more strongly associated with voting preferences. The main results of the study highlight the following aspects:
- People in Germany of Turkish origin attest that the 2023 presidential election in Turkey is of great importance for the country’s economic and political development.
- Interest in the election has increased in communities of Turkish origin compared to the last presidential election in 2018. It is pronounced across generations and continues to increase with involvement in migrant organizations and clubs.
- How a person assesses the government’s handling of political challenges such as the severely tense economic situation or the severe earthquakes in February 2023 is closely related to their voting preferences.
- People of Turkish origin feel very strongly connected to Germany and Turkey.
- The data show that overt experiences of discrimination are associated with voting preferences. However, other individual experiences of discrimination and the perceived discrimination of the group of origin are not significant.
In recent decades, scholarly research on Turkish diaspora politics has increased significantly. In particular, the changes introduced under the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party, which increasingly involve the diaspora, were analyzed. After a long neglect of the diaspora, the Turkish state and parties gradually began to favor certain groups, especially those close to the AKP ideology.
The academic and public debates about the extension of voting rights revolve around the questions of whether political allegiances are mutually exclusive and whether religious, ethnic or regional identifications are decisive for voting behavior. The role of experiences of discrimination in the diaspora and how selective migration policies influence the composition of migrant groups will also be discussed. Particular emphasis is placed in this debate on why many people of Turkish origin in Europe support Erdogan and the AKP, while those in the United States and Canada tend to support the opposition CHP and pro-Kurdish HDP. This is because, according to some studies, a significant number of Turkish immigrants in the US and Canada are highly educated and wealthy people from urban backgrounds (as well as Kurdish asylum seekers), while the German diaspora from Turkey originally migrated from poor and conservative parts of Anatolia. In total, around 3.25 million people with Turkish citizenship living abroad were allowed to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey. 1.5 million of them live there in Germany, they make up a little less than half of the 3.25 million people of Turkish origin living here. Turkish citizens abroad account for a total of five percent of the voters. Voter turnout among them has so far reached a high of over 50 percent.
In the communities of Turkish origin in Germany, interest in the last elections in Turkey was high: in 2018, turnout was 46 percent. As a result, the (non-) integration of communities of Turkish origin was discussed controversially. The survey sees no statistically significant connection between attachment to Germany or Turkey and interest in the current election in Turkey. The communities of Turkish origin do not feel connected either to Germany or to Turkey, but to both Germany and Turkey.
A large majority of respondents consider the elections in Turkey to be important for the country’s political and economic development. This assessment is independent of generation and the right to vote.
Consistent with the importance attached to the election, interest has increased from approximately 53 percent to approximately 65 percent compared to the 2018 presidential election. There are no statistically significant differences between generations when it comes to political interest in Turkey. Eligible voters in the survey have a higher interest in voting than non-eligible voters. It is possible that those who are generally less interested in Turkish politics are also more likely to be naturalized and thus lose their right to vote. Or it is exactly the other way around and people of Turkish origin gradually lose interest in the elections in Turkey after their naturalization because they are no longer allowed to vote anyway.
Studies of the voting behavior of migrants in “arrival countries” show that ethnic and religious organizations often play a mediating role. Recent studies on diaspora engagement, for example, emphasize that political parties from the country of origin can mobilize in different organizations. In order to be able to measure the commitment of the respondents in various organizations and to approach their possible mobilization, the study asked about the participation in activities in various organizations such as political parties, religious associations, cultural and sports associations that show a connection to the group of origin of the respondents . In fact, people who are active in organizations related to their home group are significantly more likely to say they are interested in the elections.
A comparative analysis of voting preferences in the years 2018 and 2023 shows hardly any change. It is noteworthy that at the end of April 2023, over 20 percent of those surveyed had not yet decided on a candidate. The data from respondents who indicated a preference indicates a slight loss of votes for the governing coalition of AKP and MHP. This means that the balance of power in the elections probably shifted in the short term and the undecided could have had a decisive influence on the final election result in Germany.
In the run-up to the election, many observers speculated that the economic crisis in Turkey could also affect voter preferences. In order to test this assumption, respondents were asked how satisfied they were with the government’s measures after the earthquake disaster and how they assessed the economic situation. Among those who describe the latter as bad or very bad, only 11 percent would choose the AKP-MHP alliance. The assessment of how the state is dealing with the consequences of the earthquake is even more clearly related to voting preferences: no person in the sample who was dissatisfied with the measures stated that they wanted to vote for the AKP. Conversely, only 2.6 percent of respondents who are satisfied with the measures would vote for the opposition.
Personal experiences of discrimination were very common in the surveys. 53 percent of those surveyed experience overt discrimination, 63 percent experience subtle discrimination several times a year, and 38 percent even regularly. The analyzes show that there is no significant connection between one’s own subtle experiences of discrimination and voting preferences. Only in the case of the obvious experiences of discrimination can it be observed that these are associated with a statistically significant preference for the coalition of AKP and MHP. As a result, there is only weak evidence for the hypothesis that the AKP government’s so-called “embrace strategy”, which publicly takes up these experiences of discrimination again and again, produces or strengthens electoral preferences for the AKP.
The study also cannot confirm the thesis that voting preference for the AKP is associated with the educational level of the diaspora in Germany. The survey found no statistically significant relationship between individual educational level and voting preference, suggesting that the AKP collects votes from different strata. A large proportion of those surveyed perceive that their own group of origin is discriminated against. 51 percent say that their group in Germany is disadvantaged “in general” and/or “in exercising their rights”. 38 percent perceive this form of discrimination in Turkey. According to the study, the following pattern can be observed: Respondents whose own group is structurally discriminated against in Turkey have a lower voting preference for the governing coalition, while those who state that their group of origin is not discriminated against in Turkey tend to vote for the governing coalition to. If a structural discrimination of one’s own group is perceived in Germany, one observes a higher voting preference for the governing coalition. However, these correlations are not statistically significant, which could be related to the small number of cases. Nevertheless, the direction of the finding is not surprising: the AKP has governed since 2002 and it can be assumed that those who still show an AKP preference see their interests and their group of origin sufficiently represented.
The study was able to prove that the subjective assessment of the political handling of major challenges such as the earthquake catastrophe is associated with voting preferences. Accordingly, it is important for future debates on diasporic voting behavior to take greater account of political events and developments in the country of origin. The campaigns and rhetoric of the parties in the country of origin, the political controversies or crises, the role of the media and the importance of other political actors that can mobilize people in different ways should also be examined more closely.
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