On April 16, KONDA, arguably the most credible polling company in Turkey, published a comprehensive analysis on the country's most recent local elections. Although the 72-page document offered valuable insights into voter profiles and electoral behavior, pro-opposition commentators seemed fixated on one slide in particular, which presented the distribution of votes according to education levels. According to the data, 48 percent of all voters with no high school diploma supported the ruling AK Party. The party's popularity dropped to 35 percent among high school graduates and to 28 percent among college graduates.
"How to beat Erdoğan? Make sure people stay at school," one political commentator remarked on Twitter.
There is clearly a pattern here, but jumping into conclusions might be misleading.
Another interesting data set in the KONDA study presented the share of voters from different educational backgrounds: The table stipulated that 67 percent of AK Party voters did not have a high school diploma, while another 23 percent consisted of high school graduates. College-educated voters constituted a mere 10 percent of all the ruling party's supporters. In other words, the 2014 data would allow us to conclude that the AK Party remains disproportionately popular among less educated voters - which happens to confirm the widely shared view among opposion ranks that the ruling party, to use a crude yet surprisingly popular expression, is a representative of the ignorant.
Again, this would not be an inaccurate description of electoral data but such an interpretation would offer a snapsnot devoid of historic context.
Instead, let us take a look how AK Party voters were ranked according to education level back in 2007, when the ruling party won a landslide victory with 46 percent against the backdrop of a standoff with the country's military commanders over the presidential vote in Parliament. Seven years ago, 76.7 percent of AK Party supporters did not have a high school degree while another 18.6 percent had not finished college.
Roughly one in twenty AK Party voters had a college degree at the time. As such, a comparative study of the 2007 and 2014 data would indicate that the ruling party's voter profile has become significantly more educated, as the share of college graduates doubled over the past seven years.
It would be more accurate, then, to argue that the AK Party owes its success to the country's new middle classes who have long sought upward mobility in a society where they felt discriminated against. The gradual - yet consistent - change in the ruling party's voter profile thus indicates that 12 years in power have empowered the country's conservative majority. Similarly, successive AK Party governments' aggressive expansion of Turkey's higher education system made various instruments of social mobility, including colleges, available to members of previously alienated social groups. The greater availability of educational institutions and the average citizen's increased access to college degrees has, in turn, forged new class identities among the country's conservatives who seem to have grown more comfortable with the market economy and consumerism over the years.
Considering the conservative dominance over Turkey's political system, it is safe to claim that the rise of former outcasts, who desperately want a seat at the table, will continue in the foreseeable future.