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Why a Majority of German Turks voted for Erdoğan

Updated: Mar 15

What's behind his popularity among German Turks?

On May 28, not only Turks in Turkey but also Turkish citizens around the world voted for their next president as well as their new parliament. Likewise in Germany, where the largest Turkish diaspora lives.

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) counted around 2.8 million people with a Turkish migration background in its last migration report - and that was five years ago. About half of them still have Turkish citizenship.

In the second round of elections, challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a politician from the Kemalist-laicist CHP, also failed to win despite being supported by a broad spectrum of politicians and society.

Erdoğan's strong base in Germany

In the German vote, however, Erdogan and his AKP party could count on a clear victory.

"People of Turkish origin in Germany vote disproportionately for Erdogan. That is the reality," explains Yunus Ulusoy of the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research (ZfTI) at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

In the 2017 constitutional referendum, about 63 percent of Turks in Germany voted in favor of Erdoğan's plan, while his success in Turkey was just under 51 percent.

A successful referendum transformed Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential system. In the 2018 presidential election, 64.8 percent of the German-Turkish vote went to Erdoğan, who received much less support in Turkey, with 52.6 percent of the vote.

Incidentally, the trend abroad is not the same everywhere as in Germany. For example, Erdoğan scored only 17 percent of all votes in the United States in 2018, 21 percent in the United Kingdom, 35 percent in Iran and 29 percent in Qatar.

German-Turkish electoral balancing act

In Germany, the voting behavior of Turks earned some criticism. Among other things, German Turks were accused of inconsistency: How could one vote for the Social Democrats or the Greens in this country, but for the Islamic-conservative AKP in Turkey?

For the German Turks, this is a completely rational election decision, and even a sign of how open the conservative Turkish voters in Germany are to variety and how little fanatic they are: "People naturally vote for the party that represents their interests. You have to see that in a positive light."

Fascination with Turkey

The first Turks to come to Germany were mostly people from rural, conservative Anatolia. "When people emigrate, they develop the values they bring with them. Their conservative religious localizations are once again conserved, especially in the diaspora."

An important factor in the German Turks' decision is the development of Turkey under Erdoğan's leadership. The development in such diverse areas as health, transport or defense make them very happy.

They compare today's Turkey with the Germany of that time: "When we came here, we were fascinated by Germany. The authorities, the hospitals, the highways were really amazing. We were always sorry that we couldn't see anything similar in Turkey. In the last 20 years, though, we see that our hospitals and highways are up to world standards."

Consular services as well as rights for Turks abroad have also improved significantly during the Erdoğan era, he said. This means a lot to Turks abroad, he said. One example mentioned is military service, from which one can "buy one's way out."

Demonization versus belonging

Many Germans do not even try to understand the voting decisions of conservative Turks, because they are only "dirty Turks" anyway. One could "ideologically judge or scandalize" this voting behavior, but also try to understand what drives the voters.

In addition, there is the German public's focus on Turks. "Are there only German Turks who vote in their home country? Of course not. Italians living abroad also have the right to vote. In Italy, a right-wing populist government came to power and nobody knows how Italians in Germany voted. No one was interested."

Erdoğan seems to be filling a gap left open by the German state: "After 60 years, politics still finds it difficult to clearly acknowledge these people and say to them: 'You belong to this country, regardless of whether you are BioNTech founders or possibly started some kind of riots on New Year's Eve as teenagers.

Even if you have made missteps, you belong to us.' But that's exactly what Erdoğan is saying: 'No matter where you are, no matter what nationality you have, you belong to us.'

Erdoğan had an easy time appealing to segments of people of Turkish origin who longed to be valued because of their Turkish heritage.

Due to the policies of the German government, German Turks "could not feel that they belonged to German society." For a long time, naturalization for people of Turkish origin was not simplified, in contrast to other immigrant groups such as Russian Germans.

Under Article 116 of the Basic Law, Russian Germans, as Germans who have moved from Russia and successor states of the Soviet Union, receive German citizenship with less effort.

Voting behavior and defiance

Such factors lead young people in the third generation in particular to vote for Erdoğan also out of spite. In recent years, conservative people have been ostracized from German political parties because of Erdoğan. This is a very sad development. This exclusion naturally triggered a reaction. People at some point started to support Erdoğan precisely because of that."

Although many German Turks have lived in Germany for more than 40 years, they are not even allowed to vote in local elections here. This is an exclusion and makes sad. Turkey even gives German Turks the right to vote.

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