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Coronavirus in Turkey: Erdogan's approval ratings surge to four-year high

Polling company says Turkish president's 14 percent increase indicates citizens desire strong leadership during pandemic
Erdogan's increasing popularity has not translated into support for his ruling Justice and Development Party (Turkish presidency handout/AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

The approval ratings of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw an unprecedented increase in late March thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Ankara-based research firm MetroPoll.

Erdogan’s job approval rate jumped by 14.7 points in March, reaching 55.8 percent, the highest percentage recorded since a failed coup attempt against the government in 2016.

The poll was carried out between 19-27 March among 1,526 participants located in 28 provinces with computer-assisted telephone interviewing.

MetroPoll said in its report that there was a “rising desire for strong leadership” among Turkish citizens given the uncertainty during the pandemic, officially known as Covid-19.

“We saw serious falls in the approval ratings of leading politicians from December 2019 to February 2020. As of March 2020, they are all on the rise,” it said.

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The rise in the popularity of populist leaders has been a worldwide phenomenon as the pandemic has worsened, with support for divisive figures such as US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johson also soaring last month.

Although the media and experts have accused them of mishandling the crisis, they have thrived in the polls.

“Faced with extraordinary and chaotic periods, societies tend to feel a need for a 'strong leader' the report added. “It seems a similar need is being felt in Turkey in the face of the Covid-19 threat."

erdogan poll graphic

Even though telephone polling could discourage the expression of critical opinions, major opposition figures have also seen a rise in their ratings.

Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who has a very combative relationship with Erdogan and is a member of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), has seen his approval ratings increase by 14 points, the same rate as the president.

However, Erdogan’s increasing popularity did not translate into support for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“The governing AK Party’s support levels are almost unchanged from a month earlier. It polls at 33.7 percent, as it did in February,” the report said. In addition, only 31.5 percent of the respondents said they would vote for Erdogan in a presidential race.

'National solidarity' campaign

Turkey has registered more than 38,226 cases and 812 deaths since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

The government has unleashed an array of measures aimed at curbing its spread, including closing down schools, universities, and cafes; banning congregational prayers; indefinitely postponing sporting events and suspending flights to many countries.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said earlier this month that more than 400,000 businesses had been closed down and more than two million people were unemployed due to the government's measures against the virus.

The government has announced a $15.5bn stimulus package and started a "national solidarity" campaign to collect donations to distribute to those unable to claim unemployment benefits. 

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