In the age of global capitalism, it is not a surprising phenomenon that voters primarily act in accordance with economic considerations. "It's the economy, stupid," a campaign slogan used by President Clinton years ago became an embodiment of this fact. Last week, my column pointed out that the economy alone would not provide satisfactory answers about the voting behavior of Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters in Turkey. Today, let us take that assertion to the next stage: If we had to pick a single factor to account for this phenomenon, what would that be? Theoretically, it would be difficult to go with the economy or liberties. Obviously, Turkey made progress on both fronts and AK Party supporters do not wish to miss out on the new opportunities such developments entail.
To grasp how this group thinks, though, we must take into account the ways in which they interpret recent developments and the situation at hand today. Field research establishes the following beyond any doubt: For the middle classes, whose size doubled over the past decade to constitute almost 40 percent of the entire population, economic performance or liberties alone do not determine party affiliation. Voters do emphasize and appreciate these developments, but they are well aware that both phenomena represent the outcome of something else.
They believe, furthermore, that the country's progress in these areas are not merely technical but have to do with politics and, even, identity. In other words, AK Party supporters associate economic development and the growing domain of liberty with the party's overall political strategy and approach. They view the situation as follows: Had the AK Party not challenged the guardianship regime, no progress would have been made with regard to either the economy or liberties. By the same token, they approve of and support the government's current struggle with coup enthusiasts within the judiciary. After all, they maintain, all positive developments are inherently rooted in the old regime's elimination.
The above-described view makes it quite simple to identify what worries the new middle classes the most, namely a return to the old ways. The majority of the population believe that this threat has entirely been eliminated and that the government might encounter something akin to past challenges any time. To be fair, they are not entirely mistaken. During its 12-year tenure, the AK Party survived a multitude of coup attempts and a number of plans to push the party out of the parliamentary system. Similar efforts continue today. It is also understandable, however, that the establishment will resist the government's advances and utilize everything within its means to take down the AK Party.
And here is the main question for the new middle classes, the backbone of the AK Party base: How could we prevent a return to the old ways after what the party made possible? The answer is quite simple: By moving even faster and claiming ownership of the future. What they see is an ongoing revolution of the people and the only thing within their means to neutralize the threat of going back to the old ways is to continue their support for the AK Party. Thus, the voters do not hold the government accountable for its mistakes and instead perpetually postpone the confrontation, since there is a greater risk involved. The new middle classes vote for their own future and regard the AK Party as the agent of their dreams.
Therefore, however important the economy may be, a rough patch in this area will have no effect on the AK Party's popularity. For voters believe that none but the AK Party can fix the problems Turkey might encounter. The economy's strong performance stems from not only good governance but also the systemic transformation. If Turkey turns to the old ways, therefore, the new middle classes stand to gain absolutely nothing. Thus their priority is to safeguard the new system and carry it into the future. For Turkey, the more accurate version of Clinton's slogan is "it's the future."