Baker Institute expert: In Erdogan’s Turkey, ‘mustering popular anti-Western sentiment can be a political resource’


David Ruth

Jeff Falk

Baker Institute expert: In Erdogan’s Turkey, ‘mustering popular anti-Western sentiment can be a political resource’

HOUSTON — (June 13, 2018) — Less than two weeks from early parliamentary and presidential elections June 24, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears poised to claim yet another victory, with enduring popularity even beyond Turkey’s borders, according to an expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Credit: University

What is surprising is that Erdogan has managed to sustain his appeal in the face of Turkey’s growing authoritarianism and rapidly deteriorating human rights record, said A.Kadir Yildirim, fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute. Yildirim is available to discuss Erdogan’s governance and Turkish politics with the news media.

“Erdogan’s ‘independent’ foreign policy course that seamlessly alternates between pro- and anti-Western positions boosts his strongman image,” Yildirim wrote in an analysis, “Erdogan’s Persistent Popularity,” published today by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The analysis highlights a recent survey showing Erdogan’s popularity is particularly strong among some segments of the population. “Respondents who ideologically self-identified as Islamist, favored a prominent role for religious leaders in politics and considered religion to be important in their lives trusted Erdogan the most as an authority on religious matters,” Yildirim wrote. “By contrast, respondents with a college education or who had a monthly income over $1,000 were less likely to trust Erdogan.”

By diverging from Turkey’s historically submissive, Western-oriented foreign policy discourse, Erdogan has proven he can maintain an active independent foreign policy — a highly desirable rhetorical element of Islamist ideology, Yildirim said. “In a circular reasoning, any negative response to Erdogan’s anti-Western rhetoric from the United States or the European Union automatically registers as retaliation against the growing power and influence of Erdogan and Turkey’s independent policymaking, thereby proving the point that Erdogan is truly independent,” he wrote. “Not only does this anti-Western stance boost Erdogan’s favorability in the region, but it also offers a textbook case of how mustering popular anti-Western sentiment can be a political resource, as the recent Jerusalem embassy row illustrates. When the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, Erdogan was one of the first leaders in the region to condemn the move and expel senior Israeli diplomats, aiming to appeal to the nationalist and Muslim vote on the eve of a tight electoral competition in Turkey.”

Given these dynamics, Erdogan’s politics carry pragmatic lessons for Islamist and non-Islamist politicians alike, Yildirim said. “Religion’s obvious appeal in bolstering popular support aside, Erdogan’s success in gaining regionwide popularity is predicated upon delivery of economic growth, upholding electoral democracy and standing up to the West,” he wrote.

Yildirim’s main research interests include politics and religion, political Islam, the politics of the Middle East and Turkish politics.


Related materials:

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace analysis:

Yildirim biography:

Follow Yildirim via Twitter @akyildirim.

Follow the Baker Institute via Twitter @BakerInstitute.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top three university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.