IDE Research Columns


Ideological Consolidation? The Predominant Party System in Turkey


Yasushi HAZAMA
Institute of Developing Economies, JETRO

October 2022

Predominant party systems (PPSs) are quite common, but relatively little attention has been paid to this type of democracy. Nearly half of consolidated democracies have had a predominant party system (Nwokora and Pelizzo 2014). To consolidate a PPS, some political theories assume that an incumbent party will attempt to anchor voting behavior by ideological polarization. However, does this strategy actually work? In Turkey, the incumbent Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi: AKP) government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has campaigned with a focus on conservatives and nationalist voters. My analysis of the 2018 post-election survey reveals that the ideological polarization strategy was successful with conservatives, but not with nationalists (Hazama 2021). While conservatives who supported the incumbent party replicated their support, nationalists were less likely than other groups to repeat their support for the incumbent. Nationalists tended to punish the incumbent party more severely than conservatives for its poor economic performance.

Turkey’s party system between 2002 and 2018 represents a typical predominant party system (PPS), in which one party wins three or more consecutive legislative majorities. It has lasted much longer than other PPSs examined by Nwokora and Pelizzo (2014). Will a PPS persist or wither? The answer lies in the consolidation phase. Pempel (1990) shows that PPSs emerge after an incumbent party has overcome a major policy challenge facing the countries. The halo effect following such successful government performance, most often in regards to the economy, strengthens support for the incumbent. Pempel (1990) further argues that the incumbent party will attempt to consolidate the PPS by transforming the political system in accordance with its ideological preferences. The incumbent thus seeks to consolidate voters’ support based on their ideological identification with the party, rather than voters’ evaluation of economic performance.

Conservatism, Nationalism, and the AKP in Turkey

The AKP’s ideological preferences are dominated by conservatism and nationalism. The previous literature on Turkish politics has argued that the AKP emphasizes religiously conservative values to encourage ideological polarization between its supporters and the opposition. Gumuscu (2013) and Ayan Musil (2014) argue that the AKP’s emphasis on Islamic values and religiosity played an important role in its third consecutive legislative majority win in 2011. Religious and traditional values remain much stronger in Turkey than in other European countries according to Yeşilada and Noordijk (2016).

Other studies point to the impact of the AKP’s growing orientation toward nationalism in foreign policy discourse. Kesgin (2020) shows that the AKP leader engages in more aggressive foreign policy discourse for the domestic audience than when engaging with foreign countries. At the same time, Aytaç and Çarkoğlu (2021) show that the terrorist attacks in mid-2015 radically increased public concerns about internal security and helped the AKP to attract nationalist voters. Indeed, following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) took advantage of the growing nationalist sentiment to reposition his party as a partner with the AKP when faced with this existential threat to the state.

Surveys by Kadri Has show that since 2015 the share of individuals who have either religious or nationalist identity has increased.1 There is also growing concern that the AKP uses ideology to encourage political polarization between its supporters and the opposition in order to consolidate its position as the predominant party. It is not clear, however, whether ideological polarization strategy (hereafter ideological strategy) contributed to the PPS. In the 2018 election, the AKP retained its legislative majority, but only through a type of coalition with the MHP.


Using a dataset from a 2018 post-election nationwide survey (N=1999),2 I tested three hypotheses on ideological strategy. First, Pempel’s argument suggests that individuals who are ideologically close to the incumbent party tend to vote for it in consecutive elections. I thus hypothesize that among the incumbent supporters in the previous election (in November 2015), conservatives and nationalists are more likely than other individuals to vote for the incumbent party in the 2018 election (H1: the loyal voter hypothesis).

Second, I focus on abstainers in the previous election. According to the integrated party choice and turnout models (Tillman 2008; Weschle 2014), voters who usually support the incumbent party or its policies tend to abstain from voting when the economy struggles, whereas citizens who normally abstain are more likely to turn out to vote for opposition parties than for the incumbent party. Based on these models, I divide abstainers into two groups: temporary abstainers (supporters of the incumbent party who abstained in the previous election because of poor economic performance) and regular abstainers. I thus hypothesize that, among abstainers in the previous election, the conservatives and nationalists (temporary abstainers) are more likely than other abstainers (regular abstainers) to return to vote for the incumbent party (H2: the returning voter hypothesis).

Third, the argument that individuals who are ideologically close to the incumbent party tolerate poor economic performance has not been sufficiently scrutinized by empirical analysis, either comparatively or within Turkish voting behavior in particular. I therefore test this argument by examining the following hypothesis: conservatives and nationalists are more likely to vote for the incumbent than voters with other ideological identities, even when their economic perception is unfavorable (H3: the lenient voter hypothesis).

The results of the hypothesis tests using the logit model are summarized in Table 1. Conservatives behaved in accordance with the loyal voter and the returning voter hypotheses. In general, conservatives consistently supported the incumbent in the two consecutive elections (H1). Those who abstained in the first election tended to return to vote for the incumbent in the second election (H2). However, they were no more likely to support the incumbent than voters with other ideological identities, even when their economic perception was unfavorable (H3). Nationalists’ behavior was consistent with only the returning voter hypothesis (H2), and they were neither loyal (H1) nor lenient voters (H3).

Table 1. Summary of Results for the Three Hypotheses

Table 1. Summary of Results for the Three Hypotheses

Note: “Yes” indicates that the hypothesis was supported; “No” indicates that it was rejected.
Source: Compiled by the author


Overall, these results imply that an ideological strategy could not effectively consolidate the PPS. In relative terms, conservatives contributed to the consolidation of the PPS more than nationalists. However, both conservatives, and nationalists in particular, punished the incumbent party for its poor economic performance. It appears that the ideological strategy cannot replace prudent economic management, which accounted for the initial emergence of the PPS. The contrast between conservatives and nationalists, the two pillars of incumbent support, is striking. I do not have sufficient data to explore the reasons for this contrast, but I will speculate briefly on the behavior of nationalist voters.

In the Turkish context, there seems to be a systemic party factor—namely, the availability of alternative parties to support. In this sense, nationalists were able to choose between the AKP (or the MHP) and the Good Party (İYİ Parti), which was formed in 2017 by former members of the MHP. In contrast, conservatives had only the AKP to vote for, and therefore remained stable supporters. While there were two new, relatively conservative parties that split from the AKP, they were together supported by no more than 5 percent of voters. In a more general context, my findings raise a new question as to whether conservative identity results in stronger attachment than nationalist identity to the party of their choice.

Author’s Note

This column is based on the following work.

Hazama, Yasushi. 2021. "Conservatives, Nationalists, and Incumbent Support in Turkey." Turkish Studies 22 (5):667–93.

  2. Data are from the Türkiye’nin Nabzı (“Turkey’s Pulse”) survey conducted by Metropoll, from June 27–July 2, 2018. It used stratified probability sampling and weighting methods.

Ayan Musil, Pelin. 2014. "Emergence of a Dominant Party System After Multipartyism: Theoretical Implications from the Case of the AKP in Turkey." South European Society and Politics 20 (1):71–92.

Aytaç, S Erdem, and Ali Çarkoğlu. 2021. "Terror Attacks, Issue Salience, and Party Competence: Diagnosing Shifting Vote Preferences in a Panel Study." Party Politics 27(4): 755–66.

Gumuscu, Sebnem. 2013. "The Emerging Predominant Party System in Turkey." Government and Opposition 48 (2):223–44.

Hazama, Yasushi. 2021. "Conservatives, Nationalists, and Incumbent Support in Turkey." Turkish Studies 22 (5):667–93.

Kesgin, Barış. 2020. "Turkey’s Erdoğan: Leadership Style and Foreign Policy Audiences." Turkish Studies 21 (1):56–82.

Nwokora, Zim, and Riccardo Pelizzo. 2014. "Sartori Reconsidered: Toward a New Predominant Party System." Political Studies 62 (4):824–42.

Pempel, T. J. 1990. "Conclusion: One-Party Dominance and the Creation of Regimes." In Uncommon Democracies, edited by T. J. Pempel, 333–60. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Tillman, Erik R. 2008. "Economic Judgments, Party Choice, and Voter Abstention in Cross-National Perspective." Comparative Political Studies 41 (9):1290–309.

Weschle, Simon. 2014. "Two Types of Economic Voting: How Economic Conditions Jointly Affect Vote Choice and Turnout." Electoral Studies 34:39–53.

Yeşilada, Birol, and Peter Noordijk. 2016. "Religiosity and Political Values in Post-2000 Turkey." In Democratic Consolidation in Turkey: Micro and Macro Challenges, edited by Cengiz Erişen and Paul Kubicek.

Author’s Profile

Yasushi Hazama is a senior researcher at IDE-JETRO. He received his MA in Public Administration from Middle East Technical University and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. His research interests include political behavior and political economy in emerging democracies, including Turkey.

Other Articles by This Author

Hazama, Yasushi. 2018. "Economic and Corruption Voting in a Predominant Party System: The Case of Turkey." Acta Politica 53:121–48.

Hazama, Yasushi, and Şeref Iba. 2017. "Legislative Agenda Setting by a Delegative Democracy: Omnibus Bills in the Turkish Parliamentary System." Turkish Studies 18(2):313–33.

Kawanaka, Takeshi, and Yasushi Hazama. 2016. Political Determinants of Income Inequality in Emerging Democracies. Singapore: Springer.

Hazama, Yasushi. 2012. "Hegemonic Preservation or Horizontal Accountability: Constitutional Review in Turkey." International Political Science Review 33 (4):421–40.

*Thumbnail image: “Turkish general election, 2018 – Kocaeli (cropped)” (Sakhalinio, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
**The views expressed in the columns are those of the author(s) and do not represent the views of IDE or the institutions to which the authors are attached.