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Poll: Turks divided on Erdogan before election

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turks are divided on how they feel about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of his bid to become president in an upcoming election, and about their country's direction, according to an opinion poll published Wednesday.

The Aug. 10 ballot will be the first time Turkish voters directly elect their president, and Erdogan, whose moderate Islamist AKP party has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, is a strong favorite.

The Pew Research Center poll found respondents evenly split on Erdogan, with 48 percent saying he has a good influence on the country and the same percentage saying he has a bad one. The survey polled 1,001 people from April 11-May 16 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

A slim majority — 51 percent — are dissatisfied with the country's direction, while 44 percent said they are satisfied. However, Pew noted that while opinion has been split on this issue over the past four years, "prior to 2011, the mood in Turkey was much more negative, with clear majorities expressing dissatisfaction with the country's direction" each year between 2002 and 2010.

"The results are not surprising. Turkey has been polarized for a long time now and the polarization is reaching a peak with the presidential elections," said Omer Faruk Genckaya, a professor of political science at Istanbul's Marmara University. "The country is split into two — such is the atmosphere at the moment."

Genckaya said, however, the economy will be the determining factor in the elections for voters.

"They will vote for the candidate they think will provide economic stability or to the candidate they think will be able to distribute wealth in a more just manner," he said.

On that issue, 50 percent of those interviewed in the Pew survey viewed the economy as being good, while 46 percent said it was bad.

More respondents supported than opposed last year's protests in Istanbul's Gezi Park, which began as an environmental sit-in against government plans to build a mall in a city park and developed into widespread anti-government protests. On that question, 49 percent of respondents said they supported the protests, and 40 percent opposed them.

A majority — 55 percent — said they disagreed with how Erdogan responded to the demonstrations, which were met by riot police using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Several people died in the protests and many were wounded.

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