Transatlantic Trends 2014 shows a Turkish public opinion that remains stable on some issues, such as disapproval of U.S. foreign policy, yet appears to be moving on others,such as attitudes to the EU and NATO. Turks have mixed feelings about their own government’s foreign policy, and have become more concerned about the economy, as well as about the influx of refugees into Turkey, than in previous years.
Turks remained firmly displeased with the role the United States plays on the international stage, with 71% saying strong U.S. leadership in international affairs was undesirable — virtually unchanged from 2013, when 69% said the same thing. Only 20% described it as desirable. Fifty-seven percent disapproved of U.S. President Barack Obama’s handling of international policies. Thirty-one percent of Turkish respondents held a generally favorable opinion of the United States; 64% held an unfavorable opinion.
Opinion on the EU, on the other hand, is improving, albeit from a low baseline as well: 31% described EU leadership as desirable, a five percentage point increase from 2013, while 45% held a favorable opinion of the EU, a 10 percentage point increase from 2013.
Forty-seven percent of Turkish respondents approved of their own government’s handling of foreign policy, while 47% disapproved.
Neither Russia nor China fared particularly well in Turkey, with 71% describing strong Russian leadership as undesirable and 70% saying the same of strong Chinese leadership. Sixty-eight percent of Turks reported an unfavorable opinion of Russia, and the same number said that about China.
THE ECONOMY, THE EU, AND IMMIGRATION
A plurality of Turks said that terrorism was the most important issue facing their nation(24%), a concern not raised anywhere else. However, they were concerned about the economy as well: 18% said the economy itself was the most important issue, while 16% said it was unemployment. Seventy-six percent of Turkish respondents said that they had been person-ally affected by the economic crisis, an increase of 14 percentage points from 2013. This is a significant reversal, as the number of Turks saying they were affected had been generally decreasing from a high of 78% in 2009.
Fifty-three percent of Turkish respondents said that European Union membership would be a good thing, an eight percentage point increase from 2013 and the first majority in five years; 29% said it would be a bad thing, a seven percentage point decrease. A plurality of Turkish respondents (29%) who said that EU membership would be good for Turkey said that it would be good because membership has strengthened European economies, while 22% said that membership would allow for free work, travel, and study within the EU’s borders.
Turks have clearly been increasingly alarmed by the influx of migration from troubled neighbors, particularly Syria. When asked why immigrants come to their country, 77% of Turks mentioned “to seek asylum,” while only one-half (47%) mentioned “to seek social benefits” and one-third (35%) mentioned “to work.” Forty-two percent of Turkish respondents said that there are “too many” immigrants in their country, nearly double the number who did so in 2013 (25%), while the number who said “not many” dropped from 35% to 14% — and 66%said that immigrants were integrating poorly (though this is down from 74% in 2013). Sixty-six percent of Turks said that their country’s policies towards refugees should be more restrictive. Sixty-seven percent of Turks disapproved of their government’s handling of immigration.
Turks were also worried about emigration. Seventy-five percent of Turkish respondents said that the number of Turks leaving to live in other countries was a problem, a huge shift from 2013 (46%); only 21% said it was not, down from 45% in 2013.
TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY COOPERATION
Twenty-eight percent of Turks said that their country should cooperate with countries of the EU in international affairs, a seven percentage point increase from 2013 and nearly as many as those who said Turkey should act alone (33%). Forty-nine percent of Turks said NATO was still essential for their country’s security, a ten percentage point increase from 2013.
Fifty-seven percent said that NATO should be engaged in the territorial defense of Europe,and a 43% plurality said that one of NATO’s roles should be “attempting to establish stability in places like Afghanistan.” However, a 47% plurality said NATO should not provide arms or training to help other countries defend themselves, and respondents were evenly divided when asked about operations outside of North America and Europe — 41% were in favor, 42% opposed.
When asked how to handle Iran’s nuclear program, Turkish preferences generally lined up with those of Europeans. A plurality of Turks (20%) would prefer to impose economic sanctions, 13% would like to offer Iran economic incentives to abandon its nuclear program, 13% would like to use computer sabotage to disrupt nuclear installations, and 12% would accept that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons. In Europe, 32% would impose sanctions, 21% would provide economic incentives, 14% would use computer sabotage, and 9% would provide support to opponents of the current government. Six percent of respondents in Turkey would use military action as a first option, as would 6% in the European Union.
However, when those who did not choose to use military action as a first option or accept Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons were asked what they would do if all other options were off the table, a plurality (43%) chose to accept that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons, while 50% of Europeans chose to take military action against Iran.
Forty-two percent supported continued economic and political support for Ukraine, even if it caused increased conflict with Russia — but a full 24% did not know about the topic or refused to answer.