The Turkish community in the United States will consider the path of the world’s largest economy as well as relations with Turkey as it heads to the polls this week for crucial 2022 midterm elections, its members said.
The polls will determine whether Republicans will regain control of Congress, where President Joe Biden’s Democrats hold majorities in both houses. Biden’s two-year agenda remaining in his term is also at stake.
Ahead of Tuesday’s midterms, surveys showed that inflation and the economy were far and away the most important factors among those who said they were likely to vote.
In addition to worries about economic problems, with inflation at its highest level since the early 1980s, members of the Turkish community living in New Jersey have another thing on their minds: the current administration’s relations and policies toward Turkey.
Although some say they don’t follow elections closely, Turks in the town of Paterson, New Jersey, still go to the polls in a state where Democrats hold a majority.
Democrats’ base in the state has weakened during the 2020 presidential election, and Republicans are now expected to increase their vote.
Hussein Bayram, a businessman in Paterson, a city with a large Muslim population, said the Turkish community should take more interest in the election to make their presence felt more broadly.
“We have gone through many years to create infrastructure in this area, but at the end of the day, politicians are interested in the number of people you bring in front of them,” Bayam told Anadolu Agency (AA).
“By looking at the records, they can see which community voted at which rate. We should make our presence known in elections by voting more.
Bayram, who serves as a cultural ambassador and commission member in Paterson, expects a tough election in a state dominated by Democrats, but the Turkish community is still interested in both divisions.
Bayram said it could be a “surprise” because Republicans fielded “strong candidates,” emphasizing the public’s expectation that Republican voter turnout would be higher than before.
Overall, Republicans have a strong chance of taking control of the US House of Representatives, while Democrats have little hope of retaining a majority in the Senate.
Republican control is enough to derail much of the legislation that Biden and his fellow Democrats want to implement and push forward a flood of congressional probes of his administration.
The party in power typically loses half of the House seats for a president’s four-year term. With so many close races, it can take days to determine the final balance of power.
Bayram emphasized that the polls, which he says could reshape the Senate and House, are especially important because some important local administrators, such as governors, sheriffs and district attorneys, will also be voted on in some states.
He also called them an “opportunity for the Turkish community to strengthen its ties with local governments that speak more”.
Distance to US politics
In contrast to those who followed the developments closely, there was also a significant number of members of the Turkish community in Paterson who did not show much interest in the election.
While many say they lack the necessary knowledge and interest in American politics, some businessmen and workers say their busy schedules leave them with no time to participate in political activities and pursue an agenda.
Vedat Çubukçu, who runs the restaurant, says US politics is very different from politics in Türkiye and people are not political.
According to Çubukçu, politics for voters in the US has more turnout on Election Day, but otherwise, people with a direct interest are “participating in more active organizations.”
He himself said that many in Paterson’s Turkish community lean toward the Democrats, choosing them because of their more moderate approach when it comes to immigration policies.
Çubukçu predicts a closely contested election, where he says the Democrats will still get the most votes.
A ‘messy’ economy
Halis Çarıkçı, who arrived in the U.S. 14 years ago from Turkey’s central province of Konya, said he disapproves of Democrats’ policies toward his homeland.
Çarıkçı has led several other members of the current administration to defect to those close to former President Donald Trump.
The decades-old partnership between NATO allies Türkiye and the US has faced unprecedented turmoil in recent years, with disagreements over many issues, including Syria and Ankara’s close ties with Moscow.
Çarıkçı also said that the Democrats have not been successful when it comes to the economy.
“Inflation has gone up a lot here. We used to fill our fridge for $100. Now you can only buy two bags of stuff,” he told AA.
Tunke Gochenler, a truck driver, said he would vote but said “Trump will get it this time. Because Biden messed up the economy so much,” complaining especially about rising fuel prices.
“A round trip from New Jersey to California used to cost $4,000-$5,000 for gasoline, now it costs $10,000,” Gochenler said.
Biden’s public approval has hovered below 50% for more than a year, reaching 40% in recent polls as his party’s electoral hopes have been dented by voter concerns about high inflation.
Biden declared inflation his number one priority last week, stressing that he takes citizens’ financial concerns seriously.
Biden also warned of what Democrats say are Trump-backed Republicans as a danger to American democracy.
Selcuk Turan, who returned from Turkey in 1969, said he believed that economic and security concerns would dominate voters’ choices.
“Everyone has school-going children. Even children have guns. In a place like America, such things should be stopped,” he said, stressing the need to amend the Arms Purchase Act.