With a young population that has seen constant growth, Turkey is getting ready to welcome millions of new voters from Generation Z in the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections. Although there are still two years until the polls, which sounds like a long time, the political parties have already rolled up their sleeves to attract the youth, who have unique characteristics compared to the previous generations due to being raised in a digital era. Being aware of their worth, the members of Generation Z expect more understanding from the elderly, demanding a stable economy and reliable politics, pointing to these as their criteria to vote for any political party.
"My primary criterion in voting for a political view is to stand strong against the outside world, to defend our rights and not to compromise," said 17-years-old Kaan. "The second is that the candidate or the political party should not be hypocritical. He/she should not speak differently to everyone in order to to make everyone happy. Of course, they should also keep their promises."
Although quite firm on his voting criteria that is based mostly on the reliability in politics, in reality, the political discussions are currently not a daily concern for him.
"Political debates make up 0% of my current agenda. I see it empty to engage in political discussions, it does not bring any benefit to anyone. Everyone stays true to all their own opinions in the end. I follow politics as much as I can to form my own thoughts, but I do not internalize it," he said.
Kaan, who wants to be either an engineer or a doctor, is one of the members of the millions of Generation Z in Turkey, and he is not alone in his thoughts.
Generation Z is a demographic generation that comes after Generation Y and precedes Generation Alpha. Although there is an ongoing discussion on who is suitable to fit into Generation Z, usually it is regarded as people who were born between 1997 and 2012. Their personality traits are usually summed up as individualistic, questioning, social on the internet and easily bored due to their quick access to information.
According to Vehbi Bayhan, a sociologist who is the head of Inönü University's Psychology department, Generation Z consists of those born between 2000-2020.
"They are called 'digitally native' because they were born into the internet and social media. Although the generation before Generation Z, millennium or Generation Y is the first generation in the digital world, digital culture is at the center of the lives of Generation Z, who came to the world and grew up in the period when the internet and social media were used extensively," he said.
Bayhan underlined that the main difference between Generation Z and other generations is that they are the generation that experiences the global world with social media platforms and think that the world is at their fingertips. He also opposes the stereotype that this new generation is mostly apolitical when it comes to their political views.
"Apolitical image, Y or the Millennium generation in the United States, was deleted by making their voices heard in the Middle East and Turkey. In this context, Generation Z is also politically sensitive and has political views. However, they traditionally do not share the political views of their parents. In the public opinion surveys, it was determined that Generation Z youth did not have the political tendency of their parents," Bayhan expressed.
In 17-years-old Hakan's opinion, although it is true that they do not follow politics much, the reason why is that they have not reached the voting age yet.
"But, I will probably follow it more as my voting time approaches. I think in general people in Turkey adopt a very emotional approach to politics. Discussing anything political takes on an automatically aggressive tone," he, who wants to study aircraft engineering, expressed and added that still, when it comes to his voting criteria, the first thing that comes to his mind is the economy and the promises related to this topic.
"If they would give me a magic wand, I would drop the currency level of the dollar against the lira first. It is the most striking thing that catches my eye. I perceive the dollar's rise as a worsening sign for the economy, and this worries me because I want to serve this country. But still, this does not create certainty for the future for me," Hakan said.
In Bayhan's opinion, Generation Z youth experience politics through social media as well.
"They are sensitive to the environment, compliant with the rules, emotional and more tolerant of differences. Sixteen percent of voters in the 2023 elections in Turkey will be from Generation Z. In other words, 18 million Generation Z youth will vote in the 2023 elections. Therefore, Generation Z youth will determine the fate of the 2023 elections," he said and added: "That is why people want to understand Generation Z, especially politicians, marketers and families."
Bayhan said the problem with Generation Z is that they immerse themselves in the virtual world, confuse fantasy with reality with social media addiction.
"This situation increases the rate of hyperactivity in Generation Z youth. They are unsatisfied and constantly bored," he said.
The discussion on Generation Z was introduced to the agenda after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu last summer and said: "Generation Z does not know what happened to our patients in hospitals when he (Kılıçdaroğlu) was in charge of the Social Insurance Institution (SSK)."
Parallel to this situation, Erdoğan met with the youth, who criticized the postponement of the Higher Education Institutions Examination (YKS) at the time, via videoconference. Aware of how important the influence of young people will be in the 2023 elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) prepared a strategy called Digital Transformation last year. AK Party Promotion and Media Chairperson Mahir Ünal introduced his party's Digital Transformation strategy to Erdoğan at the Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting in June 2020. In the report, in which a four-stage action plan was prepared, it was underlined that a new social media law should be prepared.
Recent studies show that Generation Z has unique ideas and attitudes on many political issues. First of all, they are more tolerant and progressive in matters based on religion, gender identity and ethnicity compared to the generations they follow. This indicates that it will be difficult for the politics carried out in the axis of nationalism and religiosity, which have been successful in the past, to find the expected response in the future. For example, Konda Research and Consultancy General Manager Bekir Ağırdır, in a recent interview, stated that the youth of Generation Z show interest in parties at the far ends of the political spectrum rather than the central parties. It is possible to define this as a revolt against the family or the established system in a way that coincides with the nature of the youth, and it can also be interpreted as a more flexible and modular structure where young people can have an impact on these parties.
The director of the Gezici Research Center, Murat Gezici, an international security and strategic studies specialist, on the other hand, explained to Sözcü daily last month that out of the youth of Generation Z, 44.9% vote for the People's Alliance, 55.1% do not. The voting rate of Generation Z in 2023 is expected to be around 11.8%.
He added that they have observed that their most distinctive feature is that they do not feel close to a uniform ideology or ideological group or party. "In our research, we see that 68.7% of those in this generation do not want to define themselves with categories such as Kemalist, nationalist, conservative and do not feel close to any political party. They feel more committed to universal values and reject the categories on which current politics rests," Gezici said.
18-year-old Irem, who wants to be a gynecologist, thinks that the biggest problem in Turkey today is the socioeconomic differences within the society.
"I think right now the biggest problem is some people go hungry, while others live in abundance and prosperity. People don't care about each other and each other's situation," she said, expressing that she finds this situation quite "cruel."
"It seems like human life is not valued. Simply put, for example, femicide. Nobody cares. Just the other day, we all saw the man beat the woman in the middle of the street, and nobody spoke. This is a terrible thing," Irem continued.
When she is asked what would be the first things she would change in Turkey if she had the chance, Irem said: "The first three things I will change in the country are improving the economy, social policies and justice. I see myself as a person who will have a say in this country in the future. And when I get to that position, I will try to incorporate the opinion of the people as much as possible."
"I'd hold a referendum whenever something is related to the public. It doesn't have to be anything big. It can even be an online vote."
In the report published by the London School of Economics (LSE) under the title "The political scar of the epidemics" last year, the effect of the coronavirus on the political orientations of Generation Z was examined. Assistant professor and economist Orkun Saka stated they found that the generation between the ages of 18 and 25 had lost confidence in the political system during the previous epidemics. Saka noted in his studies, they found youth confidence fell more and for longer if past outbreaks occurred when weak governments were present.
For 17-year-old Ecem, there is serious inequality of opportunity in Turkey, which is a major problem.
"We all take the same exam, but each of us has very different possibilities. I do not believe there is equal access to education all over Turkey. I wish that it'd be corrected."
Ecem emphasized that in her opinion, everything is based on education and justice.
"The hatred of people who are left in the shadows leads to bad political choices in the future," she said and added: "People older than us don't understand us. Generation Z is not like previous generations. They should dig deeper and try to get to know us more."
Bayhan highlighted that the conflict of generations has been and will be experienced in every age and period.
"It is natural that there are problems between Generation Z, who spend all their time in the digital environment, and their parents. It is problematic for the Generation Z youth, who are disconnected from real social life and withdrawn with the risk of social media addiction, to participate in real social life," he said.
"According to my observations, we, as Generation Z, actually want to see something. We want to see honesty, dedication. We want to be impressed. This only happens if they promise real things. If they make concrete promises to make space for the young population in politics, I will be affected. I look at how many young people are in the party management staff, how many women there are," said Berkay, who studies English Language Literature and added: "I find it more logical to vote for a young cadre who really wants to do this profession rather than fossilized people. After all, I entrust myself, everything. Therefore, I am thinking of voting for parties with a large population of young women who say that they will do this job calmly and transparently."
19-year-old Berkay also points at the economy as the biggest concern when it comes to Turkey and said that this situation makes him worried about his future.
"For example, right now, I have a detailed life plan, because I have to think about my future and money. This comes with certain habits as well. For instance, I look at the exchange rate every day. Or, I constantly look at youth unemployment statistics."
"Not all of Generation Z is a TikTok user," he further emphasized. "Nobody should mold us anymore. There are a lot of people among us who want to improve themselves and do something for their country, so there is no need to generalize us."
According to MAK Consulting Company research reports, two-thirds of young people consider abandoning their citizenship for that of another country. The company asked 5,115 young people, "Why would you want to go?": 59% said the reason was for a better future, 6% said for justice and equality, 14.6% a more peaceful life and 20.4% pointed to other reasons.
Although Hakan, Kaan and Irem showed no interest in living abroad but showed enthusiasm about receiving an education in the U.S. or Europe due to "better opportunities" there, Ecem and Berkay expressed different opinions. While Ecem stated that she wants to go abroad, live there and see if it's a good fit before deciding on where to spend her entire life, Berkay stated: "I will go, I know. I do not know when. This may be a year from now or 10 years from now, but I will go somehow."
"I know English like my native language. I know enough German and Spanish to speak. The purpose of learning these is that I have been planning my career since I was in high school. I want to be able to go abroad somehow without thinking about money," he said.
"I want to go not to escape from my homeland but to feel that I am a more valuable person," he added.
Bayhan underscored that in order to reach young people, it is necessary to speak their language.
"It is necessary to understand them. Therefore, it is important to do more sociological and psychological research. Communication with Generation Z, which creates a virtual world of its own that speaks through social media jargon, can be analyzed through the communication codes of the social media they use," he said.
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