Millenials hold the key in historic presidential race

Published 14.07.2014 01:38

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the softspoken academic-cum-diplomatcum- presidential-hopeful, answered questions from sympathetic journalists at the launch event of his campaign on Thursday about a range of issues. But the event's most memorable aspect was the campaign slogan, "Ekmeleddin for Bread," which became an instant hit on Twitter. "People used to call me Ekmek [bread] when I was a kid," the candidate told reporters to no avail. Jokes aside, the slogan paid homage to the leftist wing of the five-party coalition that endorses İhsanoğlu, who also mentioned bread, alongside the Quran and the flag, among sacred items to attract nationalist conservatives. But the 1970s-inspired "bread" platform might fail to impress millenials, one of the campaign's core constituencies.

According to a recent KONDA study, 25 percent of voters are aged between 18 and 28. In the 2014 local elections, far-right and farleft parties performed visibly better among millenials than the general population: KONDA reports that millenials constitute 40 percent of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) supporters and a third of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) base. The ruling AK Party, in turn, experienced a six-point deficit among young voters, mainly because its grand narrative of victimhood and the historic struggle with the establishment -which works wonders with other age groups - fails to engage youngsters with almost no memory of the pre-AK Party period. In contrast, the majority of millenials who voted for opposition parties view themselves as a politicallyirrelevant generation looking for change - ambiguous, destructive, absolutely necessary change.

To be fair, electoral volatility between political parties will remain low in the August race: The presidential battle will be fought along party lines and how millenials vote will ostensibly remain largely unaltered. The slightest changes, however, might have significant implications for the delicate balance of power between the three contenders.

In recent years, millenials have increasingly turned to political parties with strong nationalist credentials, as the Kurdish peace process and the broader Kurdish question came to represent the top item on the country's political agenda. The above-cited data confirms that big words, as opposed to responsible actions, were able to capture the attention of younger voters who were confused, like so many others, by the government sitting down with the PKK leadership for peace talks. Considering that all three presidential candidates have pledged their support to the peace process, however, the Erdoğan campaign might win back some of the frustrated young nationalists to increase his victory margin.

Meanwhile, Selahattin Demirtaş, who turned 41 in April and runs on behalf of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), might capitalize on the generation gap between younger voters and his rivals - İhsanoğlu, 71, and Erdoğan, 60. Considering that his blend of serious talk with sarcasm and jokes, which helped him in the past (he once famously commented that the HDP wanted to win New York and Rome when asked about the prime minister's bold statements about the Diyarbakır mayoral race), could appeal to millenials quite easily, Demirtaş could possibly chip away at the support of his rivals among younger voters.

Nominating İhsanoğlu to reach out to new voter blocs may have been a smart move from the opposition camp, but whether or not the candidate has the ability to attract millenials remains to be seen. Even the slightest shift from the CHP and MHP toward the AK Party and the HDP, though might lead to serious consequences - a first-round victory for Erdoğan and the possibility of breaking the 8 percent mark, a historic resistance level for the Kurdish political movement in popular elections, for Demirtaş.

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