Friday, October 24, 2014

The 'Farage Effect' on British EU Opinion?

A new poll from IPSOS-Mori showed a surprising result: popular support in Britain for staying in the European Union was at its highest level since the early 1990s.

Why is this surprising? The past 6-12 months has also seen rising support and visibility for the UK Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage, which won the European Parliament elections in May and have picked up a Member of Parliament and higher support in public opinion polls. UKIP are, of course, the most vocally Eurosceptical party in Britain.

So the odd thing is that support for Britain remaining in the EU increases as support for a party that wants to take Britain out of the EU has also increased. What is going on?

Before suggesting an answer, a caveat: this poll could be an outlier, in which case there wouldn't be any puzzle to explain. But, assuming that this 15 percentage point jump in support for staying in the EU reflects actual attitudes, how could we understand this?

The Farage Effect?
My suggestion is that the increased popularity and exposure of UKIP is the reason.

Why? EU membership has long been a polarized issue in British politics, but that polarization has usually come from within mainstream political elites. And it has usually had a more political or economic dimension: Thatcher worried about too much political control emanating from Brussels; Brown made adoption of the euro contingent on economic tests, etc. So, often, mainstream elites were not so much "anti-Europe" as opposed to some part of the current EU setup.

UKIP differ in two respects. First, they call for leaving the EU outright. Second, their opposition is embedded in a broader conservative-nationalist program that strikes a populist tone and calls for tougher restrictions on immigration. Finally, there is the issue of their supporters: as recent academic research has shown, many of their supporters tend to be hostile to the increased diversity and social change. Much of UKIP's appeal is about a sense of 'taking Britain back' from the elites and outsiders.

UKIP's rise has seen it become a leading anti-EU voice in British politics. This has led to its particular view of Britain becomes increasingly associated with the anti-EU position. As many British voters will understand it, UKIP's view is one of a Britain that is more closed-off from Europe and that seeks to 'turn back the clock' on social changes. In turn, one's position on whether Britain should stay part of the EU or not becomes increasingly linked to the question of 'do I want to live in the Britain that UKIP hopes to create?"

For most British respondents, the answer to that question is 'no.' In turn, that makes them more likely to advocate remaining in the EU. On that point, we can see some additional evidence. Substantive attitudes about Britain's relationship with the EU have not changed:

British respondents do not advocate closer integration with Europe; they are simply more likely to state that they would vote to remain in the EU--and thus to keep things (more or less) as they are now.

The increased polarization of the EU by radical right parties like UKIP has caused EU mass opinion to become more 'gut-level'. It is less about the economics of it--whether one or one's society benefits from the EU or not--and less about the politics of it (despite the constant talk of the 'democratic deficit'). Instead, the rising visibility of radical right parties placed the EU debate more firmly in a broader clash of worldviews: does one favor a more nationalistic, inward-looking society or a more multicultural and open society? My own published research provides evidence on this point. A paper I am currently drafting shows that EU attitudes correlate with a broad range of values towards risk, openness, law and order, and complexity.

Politics always has a certain 'tribal' element to it. Party identification carries with it a certain 'team membership' that goes along with the commitment to specific issues or policy goals. The increased politicization of the EU and its linkage to issues like immigration and national identify have brought a more strongly tribal element to EU opinions as well. Perversely enough then, UKIP's rise may well end up being good news for those who want to see Britain remain part of the EU.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Erdogan's Authoritarian Streak and Turkey's Troubled Future

I've been arguing for a while that a central dynamic in contemporary Turkish politics is the deeply authoritarian worldview of President Erdogan and many of his party's supporters, which explains both the government's actions of the past several years as well as the nature of opposition to his rule (see here, here, and here). While some of his opponents (certainly the MHP and sections of the Kurdish community) share a similar worldview (though with a different political understanding of society), the most vocal opposition has come from the less authoritarian segments of Turkish society.

We see this authoritarian worldview again in Erdogan's (and AKP) actions lately:

Pinar Tremblay wonders why Turkey's conservatives (meaning the AKP) are so obsessed with sexual morality. One can offer different answers.

I'd argue that maintaining social cohesion against deviance and threats to order are a central obsession of the authoritarian worldview. In this sense, the obsession with sexual morality comes from the fear that permissiveness will lead to a decay of social order and an increase in deviant behavior. This has always been the conservative concern about homosexuality: permitting it openly may "cause" others to "become" gay themselves. Similarly, allowing depictions of sexuality in the media may encourage bad behavior among the unmarried. In other words, the deeper worldview is that society needs strict rules and enforcement in order to maintain order, or otherwise society can fall apart quickly (ultimately, that's the "authoritarian" part of "authoritarianism").

In this sense, the AKP is no different than social conservatives throughout the West or anywhere else--except perhaps in that they are fighting battles that Western conservatives have already lost.

Meanwhile, President Erdogan has offered his diagnosis for the street violence and protests plaguing Turkey in the past week. The answer: "a few hoodlums" and "vandals." Taking another page from the same playbook he used during the Gezi protests, he also accused protestors of targeting pious Kurds who have beards or covered heads.

Again, the same theme: the cohesive and conservative majority of Turkish society is being threatened by a few troublemakers--who are mostly concerned about undermining society than about expressing any legitimate grievance.

One can debate to what degree Erdogan's actions reflect political calculation or his own views, but it should be clear that he certainly articulates the views of many of his most loyal supporters.

A Blank Check?
This gets more worrisome when Erdogan calls for the Turkish parliament to pass new security legislation to put an end to protests. (Remember when the President was supposed to stay out of the legislative process?). 

Turkey's deeper problem is a lack of sufficient institutionalization and rule of law. Judicial and police independence have been reduced. Local planning procedures are frequently ignored or bypassed (one of the causes of the Gezi Park protests). The media is occasionally censored, and frequently intimidated into self-censorship. And now Erdogan, as President, seems like he will not observe the informal and informal constraints upon the presidency (and his office will now have a doubled budget to work with). This lack of rule of law is bad enough in any context; in the hands of an authoritarian leader like Erdogan, it's dangerous. The end result (if any such legislation is passed) is likely to be greater ability to repress--and the selective use of these repressive powers against political opponents. (As many observers note, pro-government demonstrators never seem to get tear-gassed or attacked by the police, even if they are openly carrying sticks or knives).

So that is where Turkey is. In the currently dangerous political environment (referring here to ISIS and all that), it will be easier for Erdogan to persuade Turkish voters to trust him to keep them safe. And it will be harder for opponents to criticize his actions without being labelled traitors or troublemakers.

In the short term, the outlook for Turkey is pretty dismal. Its political system is being eroded, and its leader is a dictator at heart, and it is in the middle of an incredibly dangerous situation that won't easily or quickly be resolved. In the long run, I still believe the process of modernization is fundamentally changing Turkish society in a more democratic direction. The Gezi Park protests were a glimpse of that potential. And it is worth remembering from the Western experience that progress can be slow, and its occurrence contingent on unpredictable events (like the death or retirement of a leader, external events, etc). Think of the experiences of the Iberian Peninsula in the 1970s, Latin America in the 1980s, and Eastern Europe in 1989. So the crucial uncertainty lies in when, and how, Turkey moves into its post-Erdogan era.