Political Communication in Turkey: The Issue of Negative Partisanship

The phenomenon of political communication seems to have become particularly nuanced and multifaceted today. To the extent that, especially after the 2016 elections in the USA, we observe that political communication is now weaponized, hence becoming a foreign policy tool that can have profound impacts even in democratic processes, having been relinquished from the sole control of politicians. Considering disinformation campaigns carried out by people and institutions grifted with Russia in Donald Trump’s inner circle, this matter becomes even more acute.

Political communication has repercussions in Turkey too, as the matter has come to the forefront of the election rationales of both the government and the opposition. In Turkey, which has now entered the electoral season, the communication of politics is an intriguing subject both in terms of its impact and its content. In this context this week at MASA we hosted Prof. Zeynep Karahan Uslu. Our guest Prof. Uslu is not only an actor of the communication phenomenon as a politician, but also an intellectual who retains an excellent command of the theoretical framework of this field.

Based on our consultations with Prof. Uslu we find it meaningful to assess the political communication strategies of political parties in Turkey. In this context, if we start with the ruling AK Party, we observe that the party continues to develop a political communication strategy with classical methods. The ruling party maintains a tested and successful strategy, and by using traditional norms perpetuates its political communication discourse. In addition to this, we see the emergence of a “negative partisanship” model. Although this is a new strategy for the AK Party, it is a method currently used by various opposition circles in Turkey.

Expanding on negative partisanship in Turkey, we can define the matter as the consolidation of voters through hostile feelings against other political movements. For example, we see the method used by many political parties in debates on secularism, the Kurdish Question and Kemalism. If we were to make an assessment on the question why the AK Party utilizes the method now, we can speculate that it is a product of the party’s increasingly state-oriented ruling agenda. In addition, because of more than two decades of sustained rule, the AK Party currently formulates its electoral strategy at the point of conserving what has been achieved.

AK Party, which emerged with innovative, distinctive, and bold strategies in the past, has now determined a more conventional political communication strategy. The clearest indication of this is the “Century of Turkey” campaign, embellished with images of the early Republican period and the years of the National Struggle, establishing an organic link between them and the AK Party.

For the MHP, the other party of the ruling coalition, it’s not possible to talk about any political communication strategy. In fact, turning the lack of direct communication into a strategy, the MHP still builds its party discourse on traditional methods and obedience to the party elite. In this last five-year period, where the MHP’s worldview has become more evident at the state level, we can say that communication strategies are addressed through a broad ideological framework.

We have witnessed the use of negative partisanship by many political parties as majoritarian politics intensifies in Turkey, especially with the transition to the Presidential Government System. This leads us to the opposition’s strategy. The main parameter of the opposition’s “Table of Six”, is indeed negative partisanship, formulated as part of a discourse that seeks to oust Erdoğan from power at any cost. The cohort has not determined any political communication strategy other than this very particular negative partisanship strategy.

This shortcoming increases the risk premium of the Table of Six in terms of electability. With the negative partisanship strategy as the only active political communication method, the opposition’s chances remain slim, particularly as this strategy has likely little to no impact on newer constituents. The failure of the opposition to consolidate even at a time when the government is weak is apparent in this lack of political communication proliferation.

Batu Coşkun hakkında 13 makale
After graduating from Bilkent University, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, he completed his master's degree in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics.

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