The same troubles haunting President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign are plaguing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.
“AL-Monitor/Premise poll: Turkey’s election in dead heat, Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu tied at 45%,” announced the independent Middle Eastern news outlet AL-Monitor this week. “An exclusive poll across Turkey showed economy as top issue for voters, followed by corruption and refugees. But many young voters are still undecided in the final stretch of the race.”
The presidential race in Turkey mirrors the struggles faced by leaders in many nations in the aftermath of Covid19: High inflation, layoffs, a sluggish and stalling economy, and the ruling party on the defensive.
While the AL-Monitor sample size for its statistical survey was fairly low, a growing number of news outlets, political analysts, and foreign policy experts have been growing less optimistic about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reelection chances.
“If Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu race against each other during a runoff vote who would you vote for?” was the key survey question for the startling poll.
“The survey found a statistical tie as support for Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu stood at 45.2% and 44.9% respectively,” reported the AL-Monitor staff. “By contrast, the country’s previous elections had seen the gap between the two frontrunners significantly widen as the races neared the end. In the lead up to the 2018 presidential election polls were putting Erdogan at an average of five-point lead ahead against his top contender Muharrem Ince at the time.”
“While the majority of the respondents (62.1%) said they were unhappy with the current political climate in the country and some 45.8% of them believe the country was heading in the wrong direction, the poll shows the country's opposition has not been able to fully capitalize on the country’s deepening economic and social grievances,” reported the AL-Monitor.
It is a sentence that could have been written about the state of U.S. politics as well, to say nothing of the reelection chances of President Joe Biden.
President Biden, who this week officially announced his reelection bid, is also facing stiff economic headwinds, an almost evenly divided electorate, and poor polling numbers.
Biden is also facing challenges Erdogan doesn’t have.
“In offering himself as a candidate again, Mr. Biden is asking Americans to trust him with the powers of a commander in chief well into his ninth decade,” wrote Peter Baker for the New York Times following Biden’s announcement.
“While polls show that most Democrats have favorable opinions about Mr. Biden, a majority of them would still rather he not run again,” admitted Baker. “In a survey by NBC News released this week, 70 percent of Americans, including 51 percent of Democrats, said he should not seek a second term. Seven out of 10 of those who did not want him to serve four more years cited his age as a factor.”
“The biggest reason that many Democratic officials are nervous about President Biden’s age is not his ability to do the job in a second term,” offered David Leonhardt for the New York Times on April 26, 2023.
“Strange as it may sound, the American government can function without a healthy president,” Leonhardt argued. “The U.S. marched toward victory in World War II while Franklin Roosevelt was ailing in 1944 and 1945. Four decades later, the government managed its relationship with a teetering Soviet Union while Ronald Reagan’s mental capacities slipped. In each case, White House aides, Cabinet secretaries and military leaders performed well despite the lack of a fully engaged leader.”
“His overall approval rating remains mired at just over 42 percent, according to an aggregation of polls by the political website FiveThirtyEight, lower than 10 of the last 13 presidents at this point in their terms,” noted Peter Baker for the Times.
“There was the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan,” admitted CNN of Biden’s low approval numbers. “Struggles on border policy. Fluctuations in energy prices. Missteps with longstanding allies. Supply chain issues and shortages for everyday items and essentials like Covid-19 tests, baby formula and certain medications. And investigations into his family, which have accelerated under the House GOP majority. And, of course, the pervasive inflation woes impacting global markets and Americans’ spending power.”
Still, Turkey’s Erdogan has challenges U.S. President Joe Biden doesn’t have — at least not yet.
“Turkey's inflation seen at 42.5% in 2023, GDP growth at 3%,” reported Reuters on January 17, 2023. In retrospect, it was a preview of Erdogan’s reelection struggles today.
“The results cast doubt on President Tayyip Erdogan’s programme of slashing interest rates to support economic growth, exports, investments and employment,” wrote Reuters. “The rate easing cycle pursued since late 2021 led to a currency crisis, which in turn sent inflation to a 24-year high of 85.5% in October. While inflation eased to 64.3% in December due largely to base effects, economists expect its decline to be slower than Ankara expects.”
“Turkey’s Erdogan Faces Biggest Election Challenge Over Economy,” wrote Jared Malsin and Elvan Kivilcim for the Wall Street Journal on April 25, 2023. “Support for president appears to erode in even the most conservative strongholds.”
It is easy to see why.
“The rising cost of food, energy, medicine and other essentials have unraveled the standard of living for the majority of Turkey’s 85 million people in recent years,” according to Malsin and Kivilcim. “Many Turks are cutting back on meat, fish, alcohol and even vegetables. Others are taking on second and third jobs or seeking ways to leave the country.”
Though the Turkish government’s official figures put inflation at 51%, independent economists estimate the number to be twice that.
A series of devastating earthquakes hit Turkey in February, leaving horror and destruction in their wake. The earthquakes didn’t help Erdogan’s reelection chances, but inflation appears to be an even greater sticking point than the government’s natural disaster response or lax building codes.
On the other hand, President Joe Biden would very much like to report that the U.S. GDP grew as much as Turkey’s in Q1.
“GDP: US economy grows 1.1% in Q1, slower than expected,” reported Josh Schafer for Yahoo this morning. There was even worse news for the U.S. economy and Joe Biden's reelection hopes in the fine print.
“The first quarter was likely the high water mark for economic growth, according to Oxford Economics,” added Yahoo. “The research team sees marginal GDP growth in the second quarter followed by a recession in the back half of 2023.”
If 2023 does usher in the recession economists have long predicted — and feared — it won’t bode well for incumbents in general.
Or for President Biden in particular.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)