Last week's article, which provided an analysis of the March 30 local elections, emphasized that the distribution of votes between the ruling party and the opposition remained largely the same since the 2007 parliamentary elections.
The current electoral landscape has at least two outcomes: 1. We see no radical changes in both the AK Party's and the opposition's electoral support, while 2. Opposition parties cannot reach out to new voters and instead consolidate voters in districts where they have traditionally been strong. The existence of these two structural factors has effectively eliminated the opposition's hopes of winning elections and reduced the ruling party's fear of losing.
Thus far, the public debate has concentrated on contemporary developments and therefore claimed that campaign speeches and polarization were influential in the political landscape. Considering that the situation has been going on since 2007, however, it should be clear that we need a deeper analysis. Since 2007, Turkey has undergone a series of radical political, social, cultural and economic transformations which largely redefined the political center. While the military and the judiciary experienced a loss of power over the political system, elected political actors gained control over politics as reduced pressures on political identities facilitated previous unimaginable steps to resolve identity-related chronic problems.
Meanwhile, rapid immigration from the countryside to the cities has shifted the previous balance of rural and urban votes. Despite such major changes, voters seem uninterested in re-evaluating their party choices.
As such, it is necessary to contemplate and understand why, in the face of such radical changes, Turkey's political map, party choices and the balance between the ruling party and the opposition have remained the same.
Studies on voting behavior in Turkey reveal that 70-75 percent of voters are ideologically motivated, while another 25-30 percent tend to make decisions based on day-to-day concerns.
In other words, we observe that threequarters of all voters are largely loyal to particular political parties while the rest considers voting for other parties at some point during the campaign season. The numbers simultaneously represent a safeguard for stability and leave little room for political change.
The leading cause for the large number of high-loyalty, ideologically motivated voters in Turkey is that the country has been compelled to operate within the limits of identity politics, which causes voters to turn a blind eye to contemporary developments and instead concentrate on broader, historic elements. In this regard, religion and ethnic background emerge as leading dynamics: Since the Republic's establishment, efforts to transform Turkish society required forced cultural change through secularist and nationalist policies. While insistence on secularist policies kept alive the voters' concerns over faith-related issues, the emphasis on nationalism brought ethnic concerns to the forefront of election battles for many voters.
Today, voters offering their support to either the AK Party or the Republican People's Party (CHP) are largely motivated by religious identity or secularism. Meanwhile, ethnic identity and nationalism have a major influence over individual decisions to support either the nationalist Movement Party (MHP) or the peace and Democracy Party (BDP). In this regard, how individual political parties relate to religion and ethnicity tends to determine the extent and boundaries of their voter support.
Over the past quarter century, Turkish politics have experienced a transformation based on greater participation by religious conservatives and the Kurds, among others. Up until the early 2000s, such popular demands had faced fierce opposition from the political system.
Today, however, the AK Party and the BDP emerge as the arbiters of such popular demands. Meanwhile, the CHP and the MHP resist to the aforementioned demands as part of their role as representatives of certain voter blocs that trace their political heritage to the Republic's nationalist and secularist policies.
As such, 35-40 percent of voters, motivated by secularism and nationalism, consistently vote for either the CHP or the MHP. Thus, the politics of resistance allow both parties to reach the 10 percent electoral threshold and secure representation in Parliament while seriously limiting their chances of ever governing the country. Meanwhile, 60-65 percent of all voters claim that their demands are no longer secondary to the Republic's "good citizens" while calling for equal treatment and representation for all social groups. Individuals with such concerns seem to largely support either the AK Party or the BDP.
As the CHP and MHP resist religious conservatives and the Kurds, Turkey's political debates tend to deal with either religious or ethnic identities and effectively restrict the influence of contemporary developments on electoral behavior. Against the backdrop of a century-old political context, voters align themselves on the basis of status quo versus change. Such priorities force opposition parties to remain in opposition while allowing the ruling party to stay in power for a long time.