Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after a forceful denunciation of the demonstrations in Istanbul's Taksim Square and an even more forceful police operation to clear the protesters, is still popular with 53.5 percent public support, according to a new poll. That makes his approval rating one of the highest among European heads of state.
Still, the poll also suggests that Erdogan's support may be declining, and that fears in Turkey of a return to authoritarianism may be rising. The same poll found he had 60 percent approval in June of last year, a marked difference. While his political party is still the country's most popular, with 35.3 percent saying they would choose it over the other parties, that number has also declined, by about 7 percent over the past year.
Maybe the most significant result from this survey, conducted by the firm MetroPoll, has to do with fears that Erdogan's Turkey is becoming more authoritarian, a return to the relatively recent years of military rule. When asked whether Turkey is moving toward an "authoritarian and repressive style of governance" or toward more democracy, a remarkably high 49.9 percent said authoritarianism, while only 36 percent said democracy. Other questions showed similar fears. For example, 41.1 percent said Turkey was "not free," compared to 53.3 percent who called it free.
Erdogan, despite his still-broad support, received poor marks for his handling of the Taksim protests. When asked about his response to the situation, 49.6 percent of respondents characterized him as "confrontational and provocative," compared to 31.4 percent who said he was being "conciliatory and soothing." The remaining 19 percent offered no opinion.
The prime minister's 53.5 percent approval could still be considered a popular mandate. Erdogan has shown every indication of believing that the public backs him and his response to the Taksim protests, using his popularity to portray the protesters as a fringe group. Whatever the degree to which Erdogan might be correct about this, his support is clearly not without limits and even a number of his backers appear unhappy with how he handled Taksim.