The head of the ORC Research Company, renowned for its close estimation of the result of the latest Parliament election, told Daily Sabah that "Yes" votes have already reached 58 percent and could increase to 62 percent, if the campaign process goes on track, adding Turkish citizens abroad will contribute to the ‘Yes' votes by 1-1.5 percent
As the campaign for the April 16 referendum continues at full speed, Daily Sabah spoke with Mehmet Murat Pösteki, the head of the ORC Research Company, which is renowned for its close estimation of the result of the Nov. 1 elections in 2015. Indicating that the discourse of "Yes" voters is gaining momentum, Pösteki asserted that, "Yes votes have surpassed 50 percent." Pösteki said that the latest research reveals that "Yes" votes are over 58 percent when floating votes are distributed according to political party preferences, while adding that "Yes" votes are around 60 percent in both eastern and southeastern Anatolia.
Asserting that votes from Turkish citizens abroad will contribute to the "Yes" votes by 1-1.5 percent, Pösteki indicated that "Yes" votes could increase to 62 percent, if the campaign process goes on track.
Dailiy Sabah: Almost 40 days remain until the referendum, and the political parties are continuing their campaigns. According to your research, what are the latest figures?
MMP: We just got the results of our most recent research, and we will be sharing it with the public via Daily Sabah for the first time. We conducted face-to-face interviews with 4,100 people in 36 cities from Feb. 23-27. According to the results of this research, which has an estimated error margin of 1.6 percent, "Yes" votes are over 50 percent, while "No" votes are around 38 percent. Floating votes amount to 12 percent.
I would like to highlight that the proportional distribution of floating votes and possible votes from Turkish citizens abroad are excluded from these results. When floating votes are distributed systematically, thus proportionally, "Yes" votes amount to 56 percent, while "No" votes are around 44 percent.
On the other hand, when it is distributed according to party preferences, the results reveal that "Yes" votes are around 58 percent, while "No" votes amount to 42 percent.
According to the research we have conducted, "Yes" votes have the potential to increase to 62 percent. People who are to vote "Yes" in the referendum desire the "Yes" votes to be around 60 percent.
DS: There is a perception in the public that the percentage of "No" votes is higher than "Yes" votes; however, your research reveals the opposite.
"No" voters are trying to create the perception that they are leading; however, the field results reveal that it is the opposite.
Before the launch of the campaign, all of the discussions were about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan becoming president. "Yes" voters were stating that they would vote for Erdoğan, while "No" voters asserted they would vote against him. "No" voters tried to create a negative image of Erdoğan by alleging that the regime would change, and it would become one-man rule. Nevertheless, with the launching of the campaign process, citizens started to discuss the 18 articles of the constitutional reform package and what they entail. Therefore, voters started to see that the package is not only about the presidential government system, as it has many articles that may affect their everyday lives.
We have observed that with the start of the campaign process and the voters examining the contents of the reform package, "Yes" votes started to increase and eventually surpass "No" votes. Now, "No" supporters are in a difficult situation, as they cannot offer any alternative to the people. Moreover, we can see that the negative perception created by the "No" supporters regarding the proposed system has started to wane, as the people became more informed about the package.
According to our research, which historically analyzed Turkish voters' behaviors, the maximum percentage that "No" votes can achieve is around 43 percent. For "No" votes to win, participation in the referendum should be under 80 percent, and those who don't participate in the referendum should be "Yes" voters. To be honest, this does not seem very probable.
DS: What are the latest developments about floating votes?
They are around 11-12 percent, and 75 percent of them are inclined to vote "Yes." We have reached these results via cross-examinations and election questions. We asked participants which party they voted for in the June 7 and Nov. 1, 2015, elections. Supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) who were indecisive in the June 7 elections, along with those who voted for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the June 7 elections, voted for the AK Party in the elections of Nov. 1. That was how the AK Party won the Nov. 1 elections by acquiring 49.5 percent of the votes.
When we ask people today which party they would vote for, the results show that 53 percent of them would vote for the AK Party, while 15 percent would go for the MHP.
When we combine all of these results, it shows that 75 percent of the indecisive are inclined to vote "Yes" in the referendum. Even though they seem indecisive at the moment, it is clear that they would never vote "No." Therefore, the indecisiveness is more about voting "Yes" or not to vote at all in the referendum. This means the "No" campaign does not have much of a chance to win the referendum. Nevertheless, we believe that a majority of the indecisive will vote "Yes."
On the other hand, the populace, which constitutes 25 percent of the indecisive and is inclined towards voting "No," will probably not go to the ballot box at all. We believe that the said 25 percent of the indecisive are saying so, as they don't want to indicate that they will abstain from voting.
DS: According to your research, what is the percentage of undecided voters among AK Party supporters?
The indecisive votes among the AK Party's total votes are around 5 percent; therefore, almost 10 percent of AK Party voters are seemingly indecisive.
DS: You have said that the AK Party would receive 53 percent of the votes, if elections were to be held today. Then, why are some of these AK Party supporters indecisive?
It is not possible to explain voting behavior with simple logic. There were voters who previously never had voted for the AK Party among AK Party supporters in the Nov. 1 elections. They voted for the AK Party so that the political crisis that started with the June 7 elections could end. Now, they are withdrawing their support. People who temporarily supported the AK Party amount to 5 percent. You may think how the AK Party could still receive 53 percent of the vote, while the said 5 percent has withdrawn their support. The Peoples' Democratic Party's (HDP) votes are around 6.5 percent now, showing a sharp decrease from the 11 percent that they were able to acquire in the Nov. 1 elections. Therefore, there is a shift in the voting behavior of Kurdish voters.
DS: How would you explain this shift? Some believe "No" votes will dominate the region, claiming that voters are holding the state responsible for the conflicts in the region, in reference to the ongoing counter-terror operations.
People who believe that the state is the cause of the conflict in the region are HDP voters and PKK sympathizers. However, contrary to popular belief, they are not the majority.
Our research reveals that as the state prevents terror and provides security, Kurdish voters who previously had to vote for the HDP due to pressure from the terrorist organization are now voting for the AK Party. As I have said before, the increase in the AK Party's votes clearly indicates this shift. This development also shows that "Yes" votes will lead in the region. According to our research, the support for "Yes" is over 60 percent in eastern and southeastern Anatolia.
The majority of people in these regions hold the PKK and the HDP responsible for the terror and the conflict. This was also covered by the media, and there are many visuals proving this point. HDP deputies were not allowed into neighborhoods by the people of the region and were accused of causing the conflict. Citizens know that the state is trying to provide for them. The reconciliation process was for the welfare of the people, and the people also wanted the terror to stop. Now, the state has bypassed the PKK and is in direct contact with the people, which pleases them.
DS: The MHP is also campaigning for the "Yes" vote. It is claimed that the majority of the MHP's voter base will vote "No." What does your research reveal about this matter?
According to the research we have conducted, around 56 percent of MHP voters will vote "Yes" in the referendum, while 35 percent will vote "No." Approximately 10 percent of MHP voters are indecisive. Similarly, when we conducted research during the MHP party congress between Bahçeli and Akşener, we found that 60 percent of voters supported Bahçeli, while the remaining 40 percent supported the intraparty opposition. In this sense, these figures seem normal. We estimated 50 percent support for the package before it was discussed in Parliament; now, the figures are above our expectations. Especially after the HDP announced its campaign for "No;" I believe the "Yes" votes among MHP voters will increase.
DS: How do you evaluate the campaigns? How would the campaigns affect floating votes?
"No" supporters are constantly trying to manage public perception, while they offer nothing. They just warp existing facts, and they are seemingly in disarray. For instance, the Republican People's Party (CHP) believes decreasing the age of candidacy to 18 is insignificant; however, they are calling on the youth to vote "No" for their own future. Similarly, they held a memorial for Necmettin Erbakan, the leader of the National Vision movement, but they didn't invite Erbakan's son to the ceremony. There are many inconsistencies in the "No" camp.
On the other hand, the AK Party is a party that has a certain organizational capability and can mobilize many thousands of people. I believe active campaigns by the AK Party in the days to follow will contribute immensely to the "Yes" votes. The CHP will not have grand meetings. The HDP is also in the "No" camp; however, the CHP and the HDP don't want to hold a joint meeting, as they prefer not to be affiliated with each other. These are factors that will work against the "No" campaign.
Millions of people previously voted for Erdoğan because of his personality. I believe this campaign also depends on Erdoğan. While the "Yes" camp has just started to work and is full of energy, the "No" camp has run out of energy. The "No" camp has nothing new to offer in the campaign process.
DS: You have said that the campaign depends on Erdoğan; however, it was argued that Erdoğan's meetings during the June 7 elections made the AK Party lose votes. What is your take on this subject?
One of the most important reasons behind the AK Party's loss of votes was the ambiguous stance of the previous AK Party administration against the opposition that was claiming that they would not allow Erdoğan to become president. On the contrary, if Erdoğan had not held meetings before the June 7 elections, the AK Party would have acquired only 35 percent of the votes; Erdoğan's presence actually caused the party to maintain its votes. Even those who didn't vote abstained from voting for another party; they did not give up on the AK Party and voted for the party in the first elections after June 7.
We believe that Erdoğan holding a meeting in the campaign process for the referendum will bolster the "Yes" votes.
DS: There is statistical data suggesting that voter turnout for the referendum will be lower than for the parliamentary elections. In this regard, what are your expectations? How will voter turnout affect the outcome of the referendum?
People were not very interested in previous referendums. For instance, voter turnout was around 68 percent in the 2007 referendum, while in 2010 it was 73 percent.
Moreover, some groups called for boycotts. The HDP boycotted the previous referendum, and "Yes" votes amounted to 90 percent of the total, while participation was 25 percent. There are no calls for boycott this time. All political parties and extra-political actors want to have an effect on the outcome.
This referendum is significantly distinct; it is more like a parliamentary election than a referendum. That's why we believe voter turnout will be over 80 percent. The participation rate in the "Yes" camp is expected to be high, while some indecisive voters may not go to the ballot box.
DS: Turkish citizens abroad are also a significant factor in elections and referenda. Have you conducted any research on their inclinations? What have you found?
Most Turkish citizens abroad vote for the AK Party, followed by the HDP. If HDP voters don't go to the ballot box, "Yes" votes may go up to 70 percent. I can make an evaluation that, of course, is not definitive. More patriotic citizens abroad tend to vote for the AK Party and the MHP, and this corresponds to 60 percent of the abroad votes. It is almost the same with voter behavior in Turkey. The only difference is that there are no indecisive voters abroad. These people, who constitute 60 percent, will either vote "Yes" or will not vote at all. We can expect "Yes" votes from AK Party and MHP voters abroad, which may increase the "Yes" votes by 1-1.5 percent in general.
DS: How do people indicate why they are voting "Yes" or "No" in the research you conduct?
Most of the "Yes" camp is voting for Erdoğan and for the formation of a stable governmental system. People truly believe that this system will provide stability and prosperity. MHP voters are voting "Yes" as many of their concerns were replaced with new ones after the July 15 coup attempt. One of their concerns was the dissolution of the unitary structure of Turkey. As they saw Erdoğan's stance against the coup, many MHP supporters experienced a shift in their opinions on Erdoğan.
On the other hand, 55 percent of the "No" camp has never examined the contents of the constitutional reform package. Most of them base their opinions on hearsay; only a minority among them is voting "No" knowingly. Previously, they were voicing their concerns about one-man rule. Some others are considering what may happen after Erdoğan.
DS: How will the fluctuation in exchange rates and the stagnant economy affect voter behavior?
We ask these questions in our research; 70 percent of the people believe fluctuation in exchange rates is an attempt by foreign powers to destroy the Turkish economy. People know that the country's stability is at peril and are positioning themselves accordingly. Therefore, we believe the effects of fluctuation in exchange rates will have a limited effect on voter behavior.