Gallup surveys conducted amid the recent protests in Turkey show that Turks living in large cities are increasingly losing faith in the country's main institutions, including the military.
According to Gallup surveys conducted between May 19 and June 23, only 43 percent of Turks living in cities with at least 100,000 inhabitants expressed confidence in the national government, compared with 68 percent of residents of smaller cities and rural areas. In 2012, 50 percent of large-city dwellers expressed confidence in the government, while this percentage was 57 among rural residents.
Most of the surveys took place after the raids on protesters' camps in İstanbul's Gezi Park on May 30 and 31. The police action triggered protests in other major cities across the country. Gallup's data, however, show that urban Turks' discontent with their country's institutions was growing before the recent unrest.
In 2011, before Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won a third term, urban and rural Turks were equally likely to express confidence in several of the country's public institutions. By 2012, these two groups' views of the national government and the judicial system started to slowly drift apart, with more urban Turks withdrawing support. This rift became larger in 2013 and included a loss of support for the military among urbanites.
According to the survey, 49 percent of Turks living in large cities expressed confidence in the judicial system, compared with 66 percent of residents of smaller cities and rural areas. This confidence divide in the judiciary has never been greater between urban and rural Turks. In 2012, 48 percent of urban Turks expressed confidence in the judiciary compared with 53 percent of residents of smaller cities.
The Gallup data also show that Turks living in small cities and rural areas are now clearly more likely to say they trust the military than large-city dwellers -- 81 percent versus 59 percent respectively. In previous years, the two groups exhibited similar levels of confidence in the military.
İhsan Bal, from Turkey's International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), evaluated Gallup's findings for Today's Zaman and said that the higher levels of trust felt by those in rural areas toward the judiciary might be a result of recent trials making headlines. People have been brought to the stand in trials that were once considered unthinkable. “Today, people who are thought to be privileged are being tried, and this can explain why there is a higher level of trust in the judiciary from rural areas.”
Bal said that urban populations had higher rates of Internet and social media usage, and are usually able to react more quickly toward developments compared to people living in rural areas. This is his explanation for the difference in city vs. rural opinion on approaches to the government. “So people in centers can read the changing situation much more quickly than those in rural areas. It might be that people in urban areas might be more open to stories that are critical of the government. In more rural places, news sources are a bit more restricted, so different sources of information might have different effects on one's perception of the government.”
He also said that many people in urban centers saw first-hand how situations raised tension between protesters and the government. “For example, green spaces and parks are very important for the urbanites, but might not seem to be a big deal for those in rural areas. The fast-paced loss of green spaces in cities might have caused negative reactions toward the government among urbanites.”
Doğu Ergil, a sociologist from Fatih University, said it is really important to know which questions were asked in the Gallup poll. “It is a contradiction that trust in the government and the military is both higher in rural sections,” he said. “Usually, these are negatively correlated. In the last few months, the understanding that the military ‘lost' to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was relevant. And there was the disaster of Uludere [where 34 civilians were killed by Turkish jets]. These are all elements likely to damage the reputation of the military in the eyes of the public. For secular segments, trust in the military usually stems from them seeing the military as a guarantee of their lifestyles.” He also said that rural towns are traditionally “distant" to the judiciary, and they are not really involved in judicial affairs.