Economic and Class Factors in the 2022 Italian Election

Historically, leftwing political parties and movements have championed the working class and, in turn, have received its support. But as cultural and social issues have increased in importance, this connection has weakened and now seems to be disappearing. In Europe, concerns about immigration and European integration have also pushed working-class voters from the political left to the right.

Such dynamics were clearly evident in the 2022 Italian election. As the graph posted above shows, the most left-leaning of the major Italian parties, the Greens and Left Alliance, found the bulk of its support in the higher income quintiles. The Democratic Party, the heart of the left coalition, did poorly with lower-income voters. Higher-income voters were much more inclined than low-income voters to support the pro-EU, centrist “Action/Viva Italia” alliance. The one left-leaning party to gain most of its support from the working class was the neo-populist Five Star Movement. But while the Five Star Movement supports economic redistribution and many other leftist policies, it is also hostile to immigration and suspicious of the European Union. As a result, it has sometimes been shunned by the other left-leaning parties.

Parties belonging to the victorious rightwing coalition received a significant amount of support from the working class. Giorgia Meloni’s right-populist (or national conservative, sometimes deemed post-fascist) Brothers of Italy did well across the income spectrum but appealed most strongly to those in the lower-middle income quintile. Surprisingly, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza, an establishment oriented, pro-business party, did best among those in the lowest quintile. Matteo Salvini’s populist and regionalist/federalist Lega party also had slightly higher support among lower-income voters.

Patterns of economic geography are less visible in the Italian election returns of 2022. As can be seen on the map of multi-member electoral constituencies posted above, the left-populist Five Star Movement received most of its support in the south, which is by far the poorest part of Italy. In northern Italy, however, no economic correlations are apparent. The three richest provinces of Italy, as assessed by per capita GDP in 2019 (see the map posted below), supported different parties. Bologna gave most its votes to the leftwing coalition, as it always does. Monza and Brianza, just north of Milan, supported the rightwing coalition, as it generally does. In the far north, the Autonomous Province of Bolzano (or South Tyrol) supported its own regionalist party, as it almost always does. South Tyrol is very distinctive from the rest of Italy, mostly because more than half of its people speak German as their first language.


Left and Right Voting Patterns in Italy’s 2022 Election

(GeoCurrents will return to the Seduced by the Map manuscript later this year. The next few posts will look at Italy’s 2022 election. Posts next week will examine the current protest movement in Iran.)

The recent Italian election saw a clear victory by the rightwing coalition, which gained an outright majority of parliamentary seats. In terms of popular vote, however, the results were not so clear. The rightwing coalition took only 43.7 percent of the total vote. But the leftwing coalition lagged far behind, with only 26 percent of the vote. Most of the rest of the votes went to two non-coalition parties, the left-populist Five Star Movement and the centrist Action-Viva Italia alliance. If these parties had joined the left coalition, it would have received 49.2 percent of the vote. If one were to add the votes given to two extreme leftist parties (People’s Union and Sovereign Italy), the total “left and center” vote would stand at 51.8 percent.

There are two main reasons why the rightwing coalition won a decisive victory despite its minority level of support. One was the lack of unity in the left-center. As The Guardian reported, “The centre-left Democrats, led by Enrico Letta, placed a veto on any alliance with the left-leaning Five-Star Movement, and the centrist Liberals in turn placed a veto on the Democrats. This uncooperative narcissism cleared the way for the far-right victory.” Also important was the ability of the rightwing coalition to reach plurality support in 83 percent of the 232 single-member constituencies of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of parliament). With many parties in play, it is not difficult to reach first place with a far-from-majority level of support. On the electoral map of these constituencies, Italy appears almost solidly blue (the conventional color of the rightwing in Italy – and in almost almost every other country, except the United States).

But if the right’s victory was not as solid as it seems at first glance, the left’s defeat is still striking. Constituencies that supported candidates on the left in almost every election since 1948 failed to come through. Prior to 2017, almost every district in the important regions of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna in north-central Italy gave at least plurality support to candidates on the left. In 2022, such support was whittled down to Florence and its environs in Tuscany and Bologna and Reggio-Emilia and their environs in Emilia-Romagna. Although the left-coalition did win several densely populated urban cores elsewhere in northern Italy, the country as a whole does not show the “urban=left/rural=right” dynamic that is refashioning electoral geography in most other democracies.  Large portions of major cities such as Roma and Milan favored the right. Important cities such as Venice and Verona apparently voted much like their rural hinterlands.

Equally significant is the fact that the Italian left is not nearly as leftist as it used to be. The leading member of the left coalition, the Democratic Party, has recently moved relatively close to the center. The only clearly leftist major party, the Greens and Left Alliance, took only 3.6 percent of the vote. The hard-left parties did worse, barely cracking one percent. The Italian Communist Party took a grand total of 0.09 percent of the vote. In contrast, in 1976 the Communist Party took roughly 35 percent of the Italian vote, with the Socialist Party taking another ten percent. At the time, Italy’s “Eurocommunist” movement had dropped many of its extremist positions, but on basic economic issues it was still vastly more leftist than Italy’s current left alliance. The times have indeed changed, but not in the way that many had expected.


Voting Patterns and Population Density – and “State of Jefferson” Exception

As has often been noted, electoral patterns in the United States increasingly correlate with population density; in general, densely populated areas vote for candidates in the Democratic Party while sparsely settled areas vote for candidates in the Republican Party. As a result, major metropolitan areas generally exhibit a pattern of concentric rings, which turn from blue to red as one travels outward from the urban center.

Different cities, however, show major variations on this theme. Minneapolis-Saint Paul exemplifies the annular pattern, with a dark-blue core surrounded by rings of lightening blue that eventually turn pink. Dallas-Fort Worth is more complicated. Here one finds urban cores that are just as blue as those in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, but the urban peripheries and suburbs are more variegated, while the exurbs and enveloping rural areas are a darker shade of red. The greater Milwaukee area is notable for its steep gradient; as one leaves the city, blue yields to pink. Seattle, in contrast, has a gentle gradient, with light blue extending across and beyond the suburban fringe. (The dark red precinct west of Everett is misleading: it recorded all of three Trump votes – but no Biden votes.)


It is not just major cities where this density-dependent electoral dynamic plays out. As can be seen on the map of the 2020 presidential election in central Illinois and southeastern Iowa, all cities with more than 50,000 residents went blue, or at least had blue cores, whereas no town with fewer than 5,000 residents had any blue precincts. Pekin and Quincy were unusual in having more than 30,000 residents but no blue precincts in 2020. Yet even here, the town centers were light pink rather than red.

Several parts of the United States do not follow this pattern. Rural areas dominated by Native Americans and Blacks tend to be heavily Democratic voting. The same has historically been true of Hispanic-majority rural areas, although many are now trending Republican. And as noted in previous posts, rural areas dominated by affluent amenity-seekers also tend to be blue.

In a few parts of the country, this linkage between population density and voting behavior disappears. Consider, for example, far-northern-interior California, a white-dominated region with strong anti-California sentiments associated with the “State of Jefferson” movement. Although the cities and towns here are more pink than red, they lack blue precincts. The one exception is in Susanville, a small city economically based on prisons. But Susanville’s exceptional blue precinct is small, with just 54 votes cast. In contrast, many of the more remote parts of this region are Democratic voting. This is particularly true in the west, an area that has been heavily involved in cannabis cultivation.

The city of Redding, the “metropolis” of far northern California, has grown rapidly in recent decades, surging from under 17,000 people in 1970 to almost 100,000 today. Many of its newcomers have relocated from California’s major metropolitan areas, seeking lower prices and a more conservative social and political milieu. Although the Redding areas has many attractive natural features, its average July high temperature of 99.9 degrees dissuades the affluent, as does its political climate. Left-wing outdoor enthusiasts find places like Mt Shasta City, Weed, and Dunsmuir, all located in the mountainous blue-zone between Redding and Yreka, far more attractive. In 60%-Biden-voting Dunsmuir, population 1,700, class-three whitewater rapids are uniquely located in the middle of town.

Montana’s Changing Electoral Geography

Although Montana has usually opted for Republican candidates in U.S. presidential elections, it was until recently something of a “purple” state, often dividing its votes relatively evenly between the two main political parties. As can be seen in the map series on the left, it has been trending in a decidedly red direction. In 2008, Barack Obama received 47 percent of Montana’s votes; in 2016, Hillary Clinton got only 35.7 percent.

As can be seen on these maps, Montana’s patterns of electoral geography have changed as well. The first two maps (1948 and 1960) show a north/south divide, with the south favoring Republicans and the north favoring Democrats. Many counties, however, were almost evenly split, with few experiencing landslide elections. These patterns disappear in the later maps. The north/south divide is now only vaguely evident, and landslide elections are common, at least in the Republican-voting east. Several counties have switched their party alignment. Cascade (Great Falls) formerly trended blue, but is is now reliably red. As the second map show, Cascade County even saw a minor red-shift from 2016 to 2020 (moving from a  57.1 % to a 58.46 % Trump vote). Gallatin County (Bozeman) has moved in the opposite direction. As recently as 2004, Gallatin voted Republican. It is now reliable blue – and getting bluer. It remains, however, Montana’s most libertarian county.





County-level maps of the Trump and Biden vote in 2020 reveal some interesting but subtle patterns. At the crudest level, the state’s main geographical divide now separates the east from the west. Although most western counties are still solidly red, several of the more populous ones are blue. Equally notable, no western county gave more than three-quarters of its votes to Trump. The statistical website 538 thus maps Montana’s western congressional district as leaning Republican, in contrast its solidly Republican eastern district. Twelve eastern counties gave more than 80 percent of their votes to Trump. But Biden did win two eastern counties and came very close in a third. As we shall see in tomorrow’s post, all three of these counties have Native American majorities.



The main electoral geographical divide in the United States now pits metropolitan areas against small towns and rural areas. This pattern, however, is only vaguely apparent in Montana’s county-level data. As can be seen in the paired maps, the most sparsely settled counties gave the highest percentage of their votes to Trump, and several relatively densely populated western counties supported Biden. But Montana’s population leader, Yellowstone County (Billings), solidly backed Trump, and several rural counties that are demographically dominated by Native Americans voted for Biden.



Montana’s rural/urban divide is more clearly evident at the precinct level. Consider Silver Bow County, which is politically consolidated with the city of Butte. Historically, Silver Bow was Montana’s bluest county, its many miners consistently supporting Democratic candidates. Today, the mines are largely shuttered, and the city now specializes in reclaiming toxic sites. It is still blue, although not to the extent that it formerly was. As can be seen, central Butte remains dark blue, whereas most of the outlying areas of Silver Bow County are red. The electoral maps of Billings, Helena, and Livingston all show blue urban cores surrounded by red rural hinterlands. Even the small town of Havre on the Great Plains, population 9,362, had one light blue precinct in 2020. On the other side of the ledger, two of Montana’s largest cities, Great Falls and Kalispell, had no blue precincts in 2020. But they are not as red as their surrounding areas.




A few rural areas and small towns in Montana that are not on native American reservations now habitually vote for Democratic candidates. The college towns of Bozeman and Missoula are both surrounded by rural blue precincts, although they are not as blue as those in the urban cores. Several remote towns and rural areas situated in areas with abundant natural amenities are distinctly blue. Big Sky, noted for its luxury ski resort, falls into this category, as do the small towns of Gardiner and Cooke City, adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Red Lodge, also near Yellowstone and adjacent to the spectacular Beartooth Highway, falls into the same category. Near Glacier National Park one finds the small blue towns of West Glacier and Whitefish. Nearby Columbia Falls, however, is decidedly red. This difference reflects demographic sorting tendencies: Whitefish became an early center of outdoor recreation and environmentalism, which in turn attracted newcomers with similar interests and values. As Bill Bishop argued in The Big Sort more than a decade ago, Americans are increasingly moving to places that that match their political orientations.

Recent Population Growth — and Decline — in Montana

(Note: As I am spending the summer in Montana to be with my granddaughters and their parents, a number of forthcoming post will focus on the state.)

As can be seen in the map on the left, Montana is a booming state, posting the third largest rate of population growth (in percentage terms) in the United States from 2020 to 2021. In the 2022 election, Montana will gain a second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which it had lost in 1993 due to lagging population growth at the time. Montana is still a sparsely settled state, with the third lowest population density in the country (after Alaska and Wyoming). Its population surge, moreover, is relatively recent. As can be seen in the second map, from 2010 to 2020 it experienced a moderate rate of growth (9.6%), higher than the national average (7.4%), but well below those of neighboring Idaho (17.3%) and North Dakota (15.8%), as well as nearby Utah (18.4%).





As might be expected, Montana’s recent population expansion is very unevenly distributed. Whereas some counties are experiencing sizzling grown, others continue to decline. Growth is concentrated in the mountainous west, whereas decline is pronounced across much of the Great Plains in the east. But as can be seen in the map on the left, two far-eastern counties (Richland and Carter) experienced rapid growth from 2010 to 2020, defying the regional norm. This map, however, is somewhat misleading; as Richland and Carter are sparsely settled countries, small increases in absolute numbers translate into rapid proportional growth. A gain of a mere 255 residents in Carter resulted in a 22% growth rate over the decade. Previously, the tendency had been one of steady decline. In 1920 the county had 3,972 residents, dropping to 1,415 by 2020.


The growth in Richland County from 2010 to 2020 is easily explained; adjacent to the booming oilfields of eastern North Dakota, it became something of a bedroom community for housing-short Williston, ND. But as the oil boom has receded, so too has Richland County. As can be seen in some of the maps posted below, the county lost population from July 2020 to July 2021. Explaining the growth in Carter, one of the most remote counties in the lower 48 states, is more challenging. A recent article in the excellent Montana Free Press, however, is quite helpful. A newly paved road improved access to eastern South Dakota, another area of recent population expansion (due in part to the natural amenities of the Back Hills region). The article also cites a healthy county budget, owing in part to transit fees from energy pipelines, and, unlikely as it might seem, dinosaur tourism. Ekalaka, Carter’s county seat, is evidently a high point on Montana’s so-called Dinosaur Trail.

To help readers make sense of changing population patterns in Montana, I have made several versions of my population-change-by-county maps (posted below). As can be seen in one of these iterations, growth has been concentrated in and around Montana’s largest cities, although Great Falls has lagged behind. Later posts will explore some of these patterns in more detail.

The most recent census data, covering the period from July 2020 to July 2021, shows a continuation of most of the trends seen in the 2010-2020 period. Although most Montana countries grew sharply during this time of COVID, the northern Great Plains continued in its seemingly inexorable decline. All of Montana’s larger cities, except Great Fall and Butte, saw rapid growth. So did Ravalli County in the scenic Bitterroot Valley, a zone of high rural population density (by Montana standards). Also of note is the growth rate of Flathead County in the northwest surpassing that of Gallatin County (which includes Bozeman) in the southwest. This somewhat surprising; as an expanded headline in the Montana Free Press notes, “Montana’s fastest-growing city last year? It wasn’t Bozeman. New Census Bureau estimates chart Montana’s population shifts during the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kalispell led the pack.” This article, by Eric Dietrich, is well worth reading, especially for Dietrich’s superb cartography. (Note that there are a few discrepancies between his map and mine; although I have re-checked the data, his figures may be more accurate.)





The competition between Bozeman and Kalispell is interesting. Intriguingly, Kalispell is Montana’s only significant city with no “blue” (Democratic voting) precincts, although the nearby tourism-oriented town of Whitefish is a different matter. Bozeman, in contrast, is markedly blue, as is Gallatin County as a whole. Gallatin’s smaller towns and most of its rural areas, however, are decidedly red. I have posted details from one of Eric Dietrich’s excellent Montana electoral maps, also published in the Montana Free Press. Later posts will explore Montana’s changing electoral geography in more detail.










The Political Regions of Europe and the Fallacy of Environmental Determinism

Europe Political Orientation MapGeoCurrents reader Rafael Ferrero-Aprato recently brought to my attention an interesting map of political divisions in Europe made by the Dutch electoral geographer Josse de Voogd and reproduced by The Economist in 2014. Josse de Voogd notes the difficulties and limitations in making a map of this sort: “Some countries [are covered] in much greater detail than others and there are lots of political parties that are difficult to place ideologically. The information comes from a wide range of resources over a long time-span.” In general terms, the map seems reasonably accurate. But at the more local scale, the situation often gets too complex to be easily captured in a map of this sort. As Rafael Ferrero-Aprato notes in regard to his own country, Portugal:

Speaking for Portugal though, the red corresponds to the strongly leftists regions of Alentejo/South Ribatejo (because of the latifundium agricultural system) and Setúbal Peninsula (an industrial region). It includes also the moderately leftist areas of the north Algarve, lower Beira Interior and Lisbon. So far, so good.

But after giving it more attention, the borders are not perfect: they include south Algarve (moderately right-wing) and the city of Porto, despite it being considered right-wing. Some leftist “enclaves” are missing too, such as the peninsula of Peniche (industrial fishing) and the city of Marinha Grande (industrial).

The Alentejo, Setúbal Peninsula, Peniche and Marinha Grande were also areas of strong influence of the Portuguese Communist Party during the 1926-74 dictatorships, the only force that remained organized in the face of strong repression by the regime. As such, these regions saw numerous revolts during that time.

Germany Electoral Maps 1The only country that seems to be misconstrued on the map—at least for recent elections—is Germany. As the set of maps from Electoral Geography 2.0 indicates, German elections have recently been structured largely Germany Electoral Maps 2around a north/south division, especially those of 1998, 2002, and 2005. The 1994 and 1987 (West Germany only) maps fit better with de Voogd’s depiction, although it does seem that he unduly minimizes the left-wing Ruhr industrial area.

European right-wing populism mapUnfortunately, the interpretation of de Voogd’s cartography by The Economist is not particularly enlightening. Much of the attention here focuses on environmental determinism, referring both to the map discussed above and to another map made by de Voogd, posted here to the left. As the noted in The Economist article:

Flat areas are more right wing The flat pains of southern Sweden, East Anglia, north-eastern France, Flanders and Padania vote for right-wing populists. Hilly regions like Cumbria, south-west France and most of the Alps tend to stick with the mainstream parties. This observation is not as facetious as it may seem. According to Garry Tregidga, an historian at Exeter University, hilly pastoral areas are generally characterised by left-leaning politics. One debatable explanation is that flat crop-growing areas benefit most from economies of scale, so fathers traditionally passed on their land to the first born, reinforcing differences in wealth and creating a more hierarchical political culture. In hilly, pastoral areas inheritances were more commonly split equally, which over the generations created a more egalitarian social structure and political tradition. Another (equally debatable) explanation is that arable farms need cheap vegetable-pickers and that the consequent foreign immigration into otherwise homogeneous rural areas stokes right-wing sentiment.

Europe physical mapThe Economist author simply gets the physical geography of Europe wrong. Upper Saxony in Germany and Provence in France are correctly depicted as right-wing populist strongholds, yet they are hardly flat areas. And as the “dominant political force” map indicates, many “flat” areas generally vote for the left. Examples here include southwestern France (Aquitaine is not “hilly,” despite what The Economist claims), the lowlands of Scotland, the Brandenburg region of Germany, the plains of Andalucía, and the lower Danube Valley. And what of upland area such as the Alps, the Carpathians, the Pindus, and the Cantabrian Mountains that are accurately depicted as more “rightist” in their voting patterns? As a comparison of de Voogd’s basic political map with a physical map of Europe shows, there is simply no pan-European correlation between topography and political viewpoints.

Like most geographers, I am often perplexed by the hold that environmental determinism retains on the public imagination. Actual evidence is rarely able to dislodge such fallacies. Evidently there is something deep comfortable about the idea that landforms and climate determine how we think.

Valencia and the Països Catalans Controversy

Valencian Community MapFive days before the recent regional elections in Catalonia, the Archbishop of Valencia, Antonio Cañizares, gained attention and generated controversy by urging Catholics to “pray for Spain and her unity” while also arguing that “Spain is bleeding out” and that “there is no moral justification for secession.” It is not surprising that such sentiments would be voiced by the Archbishop of Valencia. The region of Valencia (officially, the Valencian Community) is largely Catalan speaking by strictly linguistic criteria and many Catalan nationalists would like to include it in a future independent Catalonia, but most of the people of Valencia firmly reject Catalan national identity.

Catalan Countries mapThis rhetorical battle over identity and language extends beyond Valencia to include other Catalan-speaking areas outside of Catalonia proper, encompassing a broad transnational region often called Països catalans (Catalan Countries). As the election approached, the rhetoric heated up. As reported in El País:

A suggestion by a Catalonia government official that the region could offer Catalan citizenship to residents of Valencia, the Balearics, parts of Aragon and parts of southern France if it becomes independent has been met with widespread indignation. Javier Lambán and Ximo Puig, the regional heads of Aragon and Valencia, called the proposal to extend Catalan citizenship to all residents of the area nationalists regard as the Països catalans (Catalan countries), because of historical ties, “intolerable” and “senseless.”

“It’s an intolerable lack of respect,” said Lambán about the statements made on Saturday by Catalonia regional justice chief Germà Gordó. “It is a clumsy and irresponsible opinion that not only violates basic legal norms, but also toys with the dignity of an entire region and the feelings of its people, in a display of identity-based arrogance – if you can call it that – with highly disturbing historical overtones.”

Catalan Language Valencia MapBut as the El País article noted, no other members of the Catalan government voiced support for Gordó’s position. Still, his comments reveal some of the deep controversies that undergird questions of regional and national identity in Spain. Gordó made it clear that in his interpretation the Catalan nation is essentially coterminous with the Catalan-speaking region. As he was quoted in the same article:

“The construction of a state must not let us forget the entire nation,” he said, specifying that this greater Catalonia included “North Catalonia [the French areas of Roussillon and Haute-Cerdagne], the Valencian Country, the Strip [the border area with Aragón] and the Balearic Islands.”

Greater Catalonia MapThe only part of the Catalan-speaking realm excluded by Gordo is the city of Alghero in Sardinia. Perhaps this was an oversight on his part, or perhaps making potential claims to a portion of Italy was simply a step too far. A few Catalan nationalists, however, would perhaps include within their envisaged domain almost all of the territories ruled by the Crown of Aragon during its medieval height, at least as evidenced by the maps posted to the left. Interestingly, they do not include the lands in what is now Greece that were dominated by the Catalan Company in the 1300s.

2015 Spanish Municipal Elections MapThe people of Valencia, as would be expected, have mixed views on the Catalan controversy. Most support the unity of Spain regardless of linguistic considerations. As can be seen in the maps posted to the left, Valencia’s voting behavior tends to mirror that of Spain as a whole, and is such is unlike those of the more separatist regions of Catalonia and the Basque Spain 2011 Election Mapcountry. But quite a few people of the region do prioritize Valencian identity. According to the Wikipedia, this “Valencianist” group itself is “bitterly divided over the very nature of the Valencian identity, something which is best reflected in the debate over the philological affiliation Valencian Language MapCatalan Dialects Mapof Valencian.” Some Valencianists simultaneously embrace a larger sense of Catalan identity, although this seems to be a decidedly minority position, with its supporters receiving at best around half a percent of the vote in recent regional elections. Pejoratively called catalanistes by their opponents, members of this group tend to identify with the political left. More conservative or centrist champions of Valencian identity, on the other hand, more often reject the Catalan connection, regarding their Valencian tongue as a separate language (the linguistic position of Valencian is a significant controversy in its own right.) They also generally favor enhanced autonomy within Spain rather than outright independence. The main political group of this movement, the Valencian Nationalist Bloc, currently holds six out of 99 positions in the Valencian legislature (Corts Valencianes) and 384 out of 5,784 elected positions in local governments.

 The growth of Catalan nationalism has been associated with a countervailing “anti-Catalan” movement both in Valencia and elsewhere in Spain, as discussed in a Wikipedia article on “Anti-Catalanism.” As noted in the article:

[A]nti-Catalanism expresses itself as a xenophobic attitude towards the Catalan language, people, traditions or anything identified with Catalonia and the political implications of this attitude. In its most extreme circumstances, this may also be referred as Catalanophobia. Several political movements, known for organising boycotts of products from Catalonia, are also actively identified with anti-Catalanism. Anti-Catalanism in its most virulent form is mostly associated with far-right Spanish political parties.


In response to such sentiments, anti-anti-Catalanism statements have also been forwarded. One such view focuses on the arts and other forms of cultural production. As argued in an A*Desk article by Oriol Fontdevila, “Anti-anti-Catalanism is a stance with which to eradicate the ballast that nationalism has placed on certain aspects of Catalan culture, that if on the one hand naturalizes it as a culture of the state, on the other, makes it difficult to place them in correspondence with current challenges and articulate them within contemporary cultural production.”

In the end, all that I can say is that the situation is complicated indeed, and as a result is highly interesting.


Val d’Aran: The Catalonian Exception

Val d'Aran 2015 Election 2As the previous post noted, the rural areas of Catalonia generally supported pro-independence political parties in the 2015 regional election, whereas most urban areas did not. There are, however, several exceptions to his generalization. The most striking one is the comarca (“county”) of Val Val d'Aran 2015 Election 1d’Aran, located in the extreme northwestern portion of Catalonia. With a population of 9,993 scattered over 633.5 km2 (244.6 sq mi), Val d’Aran is hardly an urban area, yet its voters firmly rejected the independence movement, favoring instead regionalist and unionist parties.

Val d’Aran’s rejection is Catalan nationalism is easy to explain, as the comarca is not part of the Catalan cultural region. The indigenous inhabitants of the valley speak Aranese, a dialect of the language of Occitan (which is itself often disparaged as a mere dialect) that formerly extended across southern France. Although fewer than 5,000 people speak Aranese as their native tongue, it was granted the status of the third official language of Catalonia (along with Catalan and Spanish) in 2010. (If this maneuver was designed to bring the people of Val d’Aran over to the side of Catalan nationalism it evidently failed.) According to the 2001 census, roughly a third of the comarca’s inhabitants speak Spanish as their native language, whereas some 19 percent speak Catalan. As noted in the Wikipedia, “speakers of languages other than the local Aranese are typically people born outside the valley, or their children.”

Dialects of Occitan MapPhysical geography helps explain why Val d’Aran is part of the Occitan rather than the Catalan linguistic sphere. Unlike the rest of Catalonia, Val d’Aran is located to the north of the Pyrenees crest, with its streams draining through France to the Atlantic Ocean. It is thus not surprising that its cultural affiliations link it more to southern France than to northeastern Spain. Maps of the Occitan language, like the one posted to the left, thus typically show Val d’Aran as something of an outlier, the only part of the Occitan linguistic region located on the Spanish side of the border.

Occitan Supradialects 1From a broader linguistic perspective, however, this view is somewhat misleading. Most students of the Gallo-Romance languages place Occitan and Catalan in the same category, Occitan Supradialects 2as these two tongues are quite closely related. Some dialectologists, moreover, argue that the southwestern Occitan dialects of France are actually more closely linked to Catalan than they are to the northeastern Occitan dialects, as can be seen in the maps posted here. In this view, Catalan and southwestern Occitan together form the “Aquitanopirenec” dialect grouping.

In pre-Roman times, the people of Val d’Aran probably spoke a precursor to Basque, or at least a closely related language in the hypothesized Vasconic family. The place-name itself suggests as much. According to the Wikipedia, “The name Val d’Aran is formed from val in Gascon [an Occitan dialect], meaning valley, and aran from Basque haran, also meaning valley. The name is thus a pleonasm or tautological place name as it translates to Valley of the Valley.” In pre-Roman times, the Pyrenees did not form a linguistic frontier. As noted in another Wikipedia article:

 Pre-Roman Languages of Iberia MapThere are many clues that indicate that Aquitanian [a pre-Basque Vasconic language] was spoken in the Pyrenees, at least as far east as Val d’Aran. The place names that end in ‑os, ‑osse, ‑ons, ‑ost and ‑oz are considered to be of Aquitanian origin, such as the place-name Biscarrosse, which is directly related to the city of Biscarrués (note the Navarro-Aragonese phonetic change) south of the Pyrenees. “Biscar” (modern Basque spelling: “bizkar”) means “ridge-line”. Such suffixes in place-names are ubiquitous in east of Navarre and Aragon, with the classical medieval ‑os > ‑ues taking place in stressed syllables, pointing to a language continuum both sides of the Pyrenees.


The Rural/Urban Divide in Catalonia’s 2015 Election

According to most media sources, the Catalan independence movement scored a major victory in the September 28 regional election, taking 72 out of 135 seats in Catalonia’s parliament (Parlament de Catalunya). More careful reporting, however, noted that the results were actually mixed. In terms of the popular vote, candidates advocating independence gained the support of less than half of the electorate. Had the vote been an actual plebiscite on soverienty, skeptics argue, the motion would have been defeated. But Artur Mas, the leader of the independence movement, offered a different interpretation, claiming that “the Catalan people have spoken”—and have spoken for independence. As he put it, writing in The Guardian:

On 27 September Catalonia’s voters went to the polls and with a record 77.4% turnout gave a win in every single electoral district to the political forces whose campaign promise was, if elected, that they would follow a “roadmap” towards Catalan independence from Spain. Pro-independence lists obtained 48% of the votes and 72 seats out of 135, whereas unionist lists got 39% of the votes and 52 seats. These plebiscitary elections were the only way possible to give the Catalan people the vote on the political future they have long called for, after the Spanish government’s longstanding refusal to allow an independence referendum.

The fact that the pro-independence vote and the Spanish-unionist vote together fall well short of 100 percent indicates the presence of a third option, that of enhanced regional autonomy without actual sovereignty. But this third “regionalist” option, which rests on a mixed sense of Catalan and Spanish identity, was favored by relatively few voters. According to a recent Politico article, this “middle ground” lost support in part “because the campaign was not based on a rational debate on whether it makes economic sense to have full fiscal autonomy or leave the EU, the eurozone or NATO. Rather, it pandered to nationalistic feelings and prejudices…”


Catalonia 2015 Election MapAs mentioned in an Economist article, the pro-independence parties were able to gain control of the regional parliament without winning an outright majority due to “Catalonia’s unequal voting system, which favours less-populated rural areas.” The uneven electoral geography of the contest is clearly evident in a series of maps, posted on the website Saint Brendan’s Island, that show the percentage of the vote taken by the top six parties in each comarca (administrative division). I have amended these maps slightly by providing a crude characterization of the political philosophy of each of these groups (in red), along with their percentage of the vote across Catalonia. The leading contingent, an electoral coalition called “Together for Yes” (Junts pel Sí), is marked as “big tent” on the map because its constituent parties span a fairly wide range of political positions, falling both to the right and the left of center. The much less popular Popular Unity Candidacy party also favors Catalan independence but is situated too far to the left to have joined the “Together for Yes” coalition.


Catalonia Population Density Election MapThe second illustration, which juxtaposes a population density map with an expanded map of the “Together for Yes” vote, clearly shows the urban/rural electoral divide in Catalonia. The region’s most densely populated areas in general gave relatively little support to the independence movement, favoring instead the unionist and regionalist parties. One factor here is the presence of many migrants from other parts of Spain, who not surprisingly tend to support the unionist cause. In Barcelona, Spanish (or Castilian, as most Catalan nationalists insist) is the main language, and although three-quarters of the city’s inhabitants can speak Catalan, fewer than half are able to write in the language. Similar situations are found in the other major urban areas of Catalonia. As noted in the Wikipedia article on the historic city of Lleida: “After some decades without any kind of population growth, it met a massive migration of Andalusians who helped the town undergo a relative demographic growth.”


Poland’s Stark Electoral Divide

Poland 2015 Election MapSome observers were surprised by the triumph of conservative candidate Andrzej Duda over incumbent Bronisław Komorowski in Poland’s May 2015 presidential election. Duda’s margin of victory, however, was thin: 51.5 percent of the vote against Komorowski’s 48.5 percent. As is typical of Polish elections, the results were geographically patterned in a stark manner. Duda, like most conservative candidates, won almost every country in southeastern Poland, many by a substantial margin, whereas the centrist candidate Komorowski triumphed almost everywhere in the west and north. The few areas that Duda lost in the “greater southeast” are almost all major cites, such as Łódź, Warsaw, and Kraków, as would be expected, given the general left-voting tendency of urban dwellers (I have added the names of several cities to the Wikipedia electoral map to make this pattern clear.) The northwest/southeast divide, however, is still reflected in the urban sector, as the Duda did much better in such southeastern cities as Kraków and Lublin than in such northwestern cities as Poznań and Gdańsk.

This geographical division in Polish elections should not, however, be exaggerated. Few areas, for example, saw an overwhelming victory of one candidate or the other, unlike the situation found in most elections in neighboring Ukraine. Over large areas of Poland, Duda and Komorowski split the vote relatively evenly, just as they did in the country as a whole. I begin to have doubts about the national integrity of any country when one political faction routinely gains over 80 or 90 percent of the vote over large areas, but that is not the case in Poland.

Poland GDP Per Capita MapPoland’s northwest/southeast electoral divide does not fit very well with the country’s socio-economic and demographic divisions. To be sure, western Poland is more prosperous than eastern Poland, a pattern that is masked on the per capita GDP map by the relatively wealth of greater Warsaw, which makes the voivodeship (province) of Mazovia appear richer than it would otherwise register. But note that Warmia-Masuria in the far north supported Poland Population Density MapKomorowski despite being a relatively poor region, just as Małopolska in the far south supported Duda despite being a relatively well-off region. Population density plays even less of a role. As the map posted here indicates, low-density regions are found in Poland’s center-voting western and northern peripheries as well as its right-voting eastern periphery.

Poland Voting Pre-War Germany Map1Instead, as has often been noted, Poland’s electoral divide is rooted in historical and cultural factors. The regions that generally vote for centrist or left-center candidates had all been part of Germany (and more specifically, Prussia) before World War I, whereas those that vote for center-right candidates had all been part of either the Russian or the Austro-Hungarian empire in the same period. (I have posted two maps obtained from other websites (here and here) that illustrate this pattern from earlier Polish elections.) It is intriguing that this divide persisted after the massive population dislocations that occurred at the end of World War II, when millions of ethnic Germans were expelled from what is now western and northern Poland and replaced by Poland Voting Pre-War Germany Map 2million of Poles transferred from the east. Perhaps political attitudes that had been established among the ethnic Poles who had lived under German rule spread among those who moved into the region after the war. Such a conclusion, however, is little better than a guess; the issue surely calls for more investigation — or clarifying comments from informed readers!


Belarussian Language in Poland MapOne largely rural area of eastern Poland, Hajnówka County, stands out for having strongly supported Komorowski. Hajnówka town is noted as the gateway to Biełaviežskaja Pušča, widely regarded as Europe’s largest “primeval forest.” Its distinctive voting pattern, however, is probably related to its large Belarussian population, which may be put off by the Polish nationalism and Euro-skepticism of Duda’s party. Whatever the cause, this region has voted in the same manner as Poland’s west and north since the transition to democratic rule at the end of the Cold War.

German Minority in Upper Silesia MapIn the south center-west, Opole Voivodeship stands out for its especially strong support for the defeated incumbent Komorowski. This region is also ethnically distinctive, as it is one of the few places in western and northern Poland to have retained a sizable ethnic German population. The reason behind the survival of a German-speaking community here is interesting. As noted in the Wikipedia:

Alongside German and Polish, many citizens of Opole-Oppeln before 1945 used a strongly German-influenced Silesian dialect (sometimes called wasserpolnisch or wasserpolak). Because of this, the post-war Polish state administration after the annexation of Silesia in 1945 did not initiate a general expulsion of all former inhabitants of Opole, as was done in Lower Silesia, for instance, where the population almost exclusively spoke the German language. Because they were considered “autochthonous” (Polish), the Wasserpolak-speakers instead received the right to remain in their homeland after declaring themselves as Poles. Some German speakers took advantage of this decision, allowing them to remain in their Oppeln, even when they considered themselves to be of German nationality.

Poland Kukiz Vote 2015 MapAnother possible factor in Opole’s distinctive voting pattern was the strong showing on the “protest” candidate Paweł Kukiz in the election’s first round. Nationwide, Kukiz received over 20 percent of the vote, and in some parts of Opole he won a plurality of the votes. Not surprisingly, Kukiz is a native son of Opole, having been born in the town of Paczków, deemed the “Polish Carcassonne” for its well-preserved medieval buildings. Kukiz is best known not as a politician but rather as a musician and actor. According to the Wikipedia, he performs in the genres of rock, pop, pop rock, and punk rock. (I would be tempted to classify the few songs that I listened to as “folk punk rock,” but I have little knowledge of such matters.)

I initially assumed that Kukiz voters would have gravitated to the centrist Komorowski rather than the right-leaning Duda in the second election round, but that is not necessarily the case. As it turns out, the political stance of Kukiz is difficult to classify, and many of his supporters probably sat out the second vote. As Aleks Szczerbiak writes in a fascinating post in The Polish Politics Blog:

Mr Kukiz stood as an independent ‘anti-system’ candidate. His background is as a rebellious rock singer who performed in a band called ‘The Breasts’, best known for their 1992 anti-clerical song ‘The ZChN (Christian-National Union) is coming’. The now-defunct Christian-National Union was a clerical-nationalist party which, as a member of Polish governments in the 1990s, promoted the Catholic Church’s social and political agenda. However, Mr Kukiz also professes a strong commitment to the Catholic faith, arguing that his best known composition was motivated by a desire to protect the Church from abuse by exploitative clerics.

Indeed, in recent years he has been better-known as an advocate of social conservative and patriotic causes. In 2010 Mr Kukiz opposed a ‘EuroPride’ homosexual march in Warsaw and was dismissive of the election in 2011 of Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transsexual parliamentary deputy, as the product of identity politics rather than ability. His musical recordings have also increasingly emphasised national-patriotic themes and he was at one time involved in supporting the annual ‘Independence March’ held on November 11th, the day that Poles celebrate national independence, which has come to be associated with nationalist groupings. However, describing himself ‘a right-winger with a left-wing heart’, Mr Kukiz also has a very eclectic approach towards socio-economic policy: supporting low taxes while positing an active role for the state in tackling poverty, and enjoying close links with a number of prominent trade union activists and leaders.


The Rightwing Nationalist Vote in the Turkish 2015 Election

Turkey 2015 election MHP Vote MapAs noted in previous posts, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) of Turkey did relatively well in the 2015 election, ending up in third place with 16 percent of the vote. It gained 80 parliamentary seats (the same number as the leftwing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), an increase of 28 seats from the previous election. Describing the political stance of the MHP is not easy. Previously a far right party, it has moved somewhat to the center in recent years. Some observers, however, are skeptical of this change. As noted in the Wikipedia:

The MHP used to be described as a neo-fascist party linked to extremist and violent militias. Since the 1990s it has, under the leadership of Devlet Bahçeli, gradually moderated its programme, turning from ethnic to cultural nationalism and conservatism and stressing the unitary nature of the Turkish state. Notably, it has moved from strict, Kemalist-style secularism to a more pro-Islamic stance, and has – at least in public statements – accepted the rules of parliamentary democracy. Some scholars doubt the sincerity and credibility of this turn and suspect the party of still pursuing a fascist agenda behind a more moderate and pro-democratic façade. Nevertheless, MHP’s mainstream overture has strongly increased its appeal to voters and it has grown to the country’s third-strongest party, continuously represented in the National Assembly since 2007 with voter shares well above the 10% threshold.

Despite taking only 16 percent of the vote, the MHP gained a relatively strong position owing to the divided nature of the election and hence of the Turkish parliament. Steven A. Cook recently described Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the MHP, as the “the strongest man in Turkish politics today,” based on the idea that Erdogan’s AKP would have to reach out to him to form a coalition government. That will not be easy, however. According to a recent article in Today’s Zaman:

The preconditions set by Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to form a coalition with the AK Party included the reopening of the corruption claims against four former ministers and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, moving the presidential palace back to its original place in Çankaya and dropping the “settlement process,” also known as the “Kurdish opening.”

As a highly nationalistic party, the MHP is deeply opposed to any accommodation with Turkey’s Kurds. Erdogan’s government has made some openings here, upsetting the MHP, yet it is increasingly hostile to Kurdish interests in northern Syria, and has even threatened to invade if the Syrian Kurds try to form their own state.

The geographical contours of the MHP vote are not particularly clear-cut, as can be seen in the map posted here. The party did quite well in many provinces in central and northeastern Anatolia, and it took more than 10 percent of the vote across most of the country. It received fewer votes in the metropolitan areas of Istanbul and Izmir, but only in the Kurdish southeast was its support negligible. Its particularly strong showing in south-central Osmaniye is easily explained, as this is the home of the party’s leader, Devlet Bahçeli.

In general, provinces that supported the left-wing, pro-Kurdish HDP gave extremely few votes to the right-wing, Turkish nationalist MHP, and vice versa. There is, however, one major exceptions to this rule, Iğdır Province located in the far east. Iğdır gave 27 percent of its vote to the MHP and 56 to the HDP. Considering the fact that Iğdır is split relatively evenly between Azeris and Kurds, with few ethnic Turks, I find these returns quite surprising. Evidently, large numbers of the provinces Shia Azeris voted for the hard-core Turkish-nationalist MHP.

Turkey 2015 election Conservative voteOverall, the Turkish electorate remains quite conservative, as can be seen in the final map in this series, one that shows the combined vote of the country’s two rightwing parties, the moderately Islamist AKP and the strongly nationalistic MHP. Over most of central Turkey, the conservative parties retain overwhelming levels of support.



Turkey’s Leftwing Peoples’ Democratic Party and the Kurdish Question

Turkey 2015 Election HDP mapThe new, leftwing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) did relatively well in the 2015 Turkish election, taking 13 percent of the vote nationwide and sending 80 representatives to the Turkish Parliament. As noted in the previous post, the HDP’s main area of support is the Kurdish-speaking southeast, where it was the clear majority party. Its overwhelming victory in such provinces as Hakkâri and Şırnak, where is gained over 80 percent of the vote, is probably linked more to its embrace of Kurdish aspirations than to its insistently leftist orientation. As explained in the Wikipedia article on the party:

As a democratic socialist and anti-capitalist party, the HDP aspires to fundamentally challenge the existing Turkish-Kurdish divide and other existing parameters in Turkish politics. The party’s programme places a strong emphasis on environmentalism, minority rights and egalitarianism. When fielding candidates, the party employs a 10% quota for the LGBT community and a 50% quota for women. Despite the HDP’s claims that it represents the whole of Turkey, critics have accused the party of mainly representing the interests of the Kurdish minority in south-eastern Turkey, where the party polls the highest.

As the first map posted here shows, the HDP did extremely poorly over most of Turkey, gaining less than five percent of the vote in most provinces in central and northern Anatolia, areas generally noted for their conservative and nationalistic attitudes. But it did little better in the northwest (outside of greater Istanbul and Bursa), which is in general a secular-leaning region where the center-left Republican People’s Party drew a plurality of the vote. In Edirne, in the extreme northwest, the HDP took barely more than three percent of the vote. The HDP did better in the large cities of western Turkey, gaining between 10 and 15 percent of the vote in Istanbul Province and in Izmir. It is unclear how much of the support for the HDP in Istanbul came from leftwing ethnic Turks and how much came from ethnic Kurds, who number up to three million in a city of some 14 million (giving Istanbul a larger number of Kurds than any other city).

Turkey Language Map 1In eastern Turkey, electoral support for the HDP is correlated with Kurdish-majority areas. But how close this correlation actually is difficult to assesses, due largely to the fact that province-level ethnic data in Turkey is difficult to obtain. Even basic language maps of the country vary widely in their depiction of the Kurdish-speaking zone, due in part to the prevalence of linguistic mixing in many areas. Some maps, for example, show large pockets of Kurdish across much of central and south-central Turkey (see, for example, the Muturzikin map posted here). Such partially Kurdish regions, however, Kurds and Turkish Election Map 1are not apparent on the electoral map. To illustrate this fact, I have overlaid the main Kurdish areas from the Muturzikin map on the 2015 electoral map. As can be seen, a number of provinces, such as Yozgat, that supposedly have a substantial Kurdish population gave very few votes to the HDP. To the extent that the Muturzikin mapping is accurate, we would have to conclude that support for Kurdish-oriented politics is to some extent limited to Kurds who live in the core zone of the ethnic group in southeastern Turkey.


Turkey Language Map 2Other language maps, however, show a much more limited extent of the Kurdish population in central Turkey, as can be seen in the figure posted to the left. Again, I have overlaid the main Kurdish zones from this map on the electoral map. The fit here is much closer, although it might seem odd that the HDP gained only 38 percent of the vote in Şanlıurfa Province, which is depicted as mostly Kurdish. In actuality, however, the province has a mixed population of ethnic Kurds, Turks, and Arabs, and is estimated to be only around 47 percent Kurdish. Kars Province in the northeast, on the other hand, Kurds and Turksih election 2is estimated to be only around 20 percent Kurdish, yet it gave just under half of its votes to the HDP. This province, however, also has a large Azerbaijani population, many members of which might be attracted by the HDP’s more general support for minority rights.


Zazaki and Turkish Election 1Tunceli Province in east-central Turkey fits the same patters as Kars, although in a more extreme manner; more than 60 percent of its voters supported the HDP even though the province lies outside of the Kurdish-speaking zone. But just because the people of Tunceli do not speak Kurdish does not mean that they are not ethnic Kurds. Actually, there is no single “Kurdish language,” as the two main dialects, Kurmanji and Sorani, are easily as different from each other as are French and Spanish. Most of the people of Tunceli speak Zazaki (or Zaza), which is more closely related to the languages of Caspian Iran (Gilaki and Mazandarani) than it is to “Kurdish.” But such linguistic Zazaki and Turkish Election 2separation does not prevent the Zaza people from identifying as Kurds; according to the Wikipedia, most of them do. As a result, it should not be surprising that a clear majority of the people of Tunceli voted for the HDP. Yet in neighboring Elazığ Province, which is either predominately Zazaki-speaking or mixed Zazaki-Kurdish, the HDP received barely more than 15 percent of the vote. Elazığ, it turns, has long been noted for its conservatism and Turkish nationalism, despite its apparent ethnic background. As noted in the Wikipedia:

Elazığ is known for being conservative and patriotic. Not a single leftist party has managed to get a candidate elected in the past 34 years. Moreover, the BDP, an ethnic nationalist Kurdish party, has never managed to get an official elected to the Turkish Grand National Assembly in contrary to its neighbouring provinces Tunceli and Diyarbakır. Elazığ is also the most developed city (and province) in the region according to a report that was carried out by the Ministry of Development, making it the most developed region of Eastern Anatolia Region

Turkey Alevi Population MapTo understand the political disparities between neighboring Tunceli and Elazığ provinces, we must also look to religion. Importantly, Tunceli is the center of Alevism, a highly heterodox and generally quite liberal offshoot of Shia Islam. Alevis, who number up to 15 million, are scattered across much of Turkey, but only in Tunceli do they constitute the majority. But oddly, in Sivas Province in central Anatolia, which also has a large Alevi population, the HDP received a minuscule 1.8 percent of the vote. Obviously, neither religion nor ethnicity determines voting patterns, as many locally specific matters must be taken into account as well. In Tunceli Province, additional factors include its high levels of tertiary education coupled with the fact that an earlier Turkish administration shut down its university. As reported in the Wikipedia article on the province: “In 1979/1980 Tunceli had the highest number of students attending universities as well as the top entry points until the only higher education school [was] shut down and was converted to a military base. Tunceli University [,however,] was established on May 22, 2008.”

Another unusual feature of Tunceli is its concentration of Crypto-Armenians. As again noted in the Wikipedia:

Through the 20th century, an unknown number of Armenians living in the mountainous region of Tunceli had converted to Alevism. During the Armenian Genocide, many of the Armenians in the region were saved by their Kurdish neighbors. According to Mihran Prgiç Gültekin, the head of the Union of Dersim Armenians, around 75% of the population of Dersim are “converted Armenians.” … In April 2013, Aram Ateşyan, the acting Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, stated that 90% of Tunceli’s population is of Armenian origin.

Obviously, many questions here remained unanswered. As always, I welcome feedback from informed readers.


The 2015 Turkish Election: The Unclear Economic Dimension

Turkey 2015 Vote Parties MapThe 2015 Turkish General Election struck many observers as highly significant, due mainly to the drop in support for the previously dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP), closely associated with president and former prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Although the AKP remains the largest party in the Turkish parliament, it gained only 41 percent of the total vote, thwarting Erdoğan’s plans for strengthening the presidency. To some extent, the election can be seen as a referendum on Erdoğan himself. Highly popular a decade ago, when Turkey’s economy was growing strongly and the country enjoyed peaceful relations with most of its neighbors, Erdoğan has seen his support drop as the economy has faltered, as regional tensions have intensified, and as Turkish democratic institutions have been partially undermined.

As the first map, from the invaluable website Electoral Geography 2.0, shows, the moderately Islamist, “center-right to right-wing” (according to the Wikipedia) AKP triumphed across most of Anatolia, while the “center-left,” moderately nationalistic, “Kemalist” Republican People’s Party (CHP) came in first in most of European Turkey and along most of the greater Aegean coastal region. The new, left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), closely associated with Kurdish nationalism, did relatively well, taking a majority of the votes in the Kurdish-speaking southeast. It received fewer votes overall, however, than the extremely nationalistic Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): 13 percent for the HDP vs. 16 percent for the MHP. But the MHP triumphed only in a few districts concentrated in the south-central part of the country, as its electoral support is much more spatially dispersed than that of the HDP.

Turkey Income by Province MapEthnic and religious factors obviously played a large role in this election, as will be examined more closely in subsequent posts. For now, however, I will concentrate on economic factors. Can we find any geographical correlations between voting patterns and economic conditions? To address this question, we must first find a map that shows some measure of the economic ranking of the provinces of Turkey. Doing so, however, is not easy. A commonly reproduced Wikipedia map that purports to show “per capita income by province in 2011” is not adequate. This map is incomplete, lacking a key, but more problematic is the patterns that it depicts, which seem to be inaccurate. It places Mardin Province in the southeast, for example, in the highest economic category, yet the Wikipedia itself describes this province as suffering from serious poverty, unemployment, and out-migration.

Turkey Socio-Economic Development MapThe best map of economic differentiation in Turkey that I have located come from an article entitled “Regional Disparities and Territorial Indicators in Turkey: Socio-Economic Development Index (SEDI)” by Metin ÖZASLAN, Bülent DINCER, and Hüseyin ÖZGÜR. This map shows generalized levels of socio-economic development; note that I have remapped the original data with a different color scheme in order to emphasis disparities. The main pattern here is quite clear: western Turkey is much more prosperous than eastern and especially southeastern Turkey. Coastal areas also tend to be more developed that interior regions, although here the differences are not pronounced. More striking is the fact that the provinces containing Turkey’s largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Bursa, are all in the top category of socio-economic development.

Turkey 2015 AKP Vote MapIn comparing the map of the electoral showing of the AKP (Erdoğan’s party) with that of socio-economic development, only one pattern stands out: the impoverished southeast voted heavily for the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). In some respects there is noting unusual here, as poor areas often vote for economically leftist parties. But the Turkish HDP is also noted for its culturally left positions, positions that might not be expected to gain widespread support in a mostly rural, peripheral portion of a developing country. Here, I think, one must look to the political aspirations of the Tuerkey Development Vote MapKurdish people, as will be explored in a subsequent post. Otherwise, the 2015 Turkish voting patterns do not correlate strongly with those of socio-economic conditions. Some very poor provinces voted strongly for the AKP, such as Bayburt, while some wealthy provinces, such as Kocaeli, gave a plurality of their votes to the AKP. Intriguingly, the party’s highest level of support came from provinces in the middle of the socio-economic spectrum: Konya and Rize.

One problem with generalized socio-economic rankings is the fact that they do not capture recent changes and general developmental tendencies. Turkey, for example, has over the past 15 years seen the rise of several so-called Anatolian Tiger cities, which have surged ahead in economic production and productivity. These cities have been widely associated with Islamic values, which differentiate them from the older and Anatolian Tigers Maphistorically more secular Turkish industrial cities, such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. According to the Wikipedia article on the “Anatolian Tigers”:

Beyond their shared characteristics in an economical perspective, references have also been made, especially in international media, to different political connotations within the term, including by associating this capital with Islamic values or extending its whole under such definitions as “Islamic capital” or “green capital”. … A 2005 study by the European Stability Initiative that was focused on Kayseri uses the term “Islamic Calvinists” to define the entrepreneurs and their values.

Turkey AKP Vote Decline MapI have crudely mapped the most important of these “Anatolian Tigers” by highlighting the provinces in which they are located. Note that these provinces vary fairly widely in terms of their levels of socio-economic development. They also vary quite a bit in regard to their level of support for the AKP, although in general they did gave a higher percentage of their votes to Erdoğan’s party than did the “average” Turkish province. What I find most intriguing, however, is the fact that two of these “Tiger” provinces, Gaziantep and Kayseri, showed a major drop in support for the AKP between 2011 and 2015. Perhaps Turkey’s recent economic problems have played a role here. The AKP’s most precipitous drop in support, however, was found in the southeast, a phenomenon most closely linked to the emergence of the Kurdish-oriented Peoples’ Democratic Party.