Barack Obama’s 2009 visit to Turkey resulted in an Obama-Mania in Turkish media, followed by a friendship between Obama and Recep Erdoğan, which was widely reported in the media and emphasized in their rhetoric. This article explains the existence of the Erdoğan-Obama friendship narrative, in spite of no actual political friendship existing. We first interpret their relationship through five key components of political friendship (affect, grand project, altruistic reciprocity, moral obligations, equality) and argue that, despite a strong friendship narrative, their histories, leadership styles, and political goals diverged to such an extent that a friendship never existed. We then introduce sentimental utility theory (SUT) to explain the utility of maintaining the appearance of a friendship. Through SUT, this article illuminates the utility of collective emotions and offers insight into how collective emotions produce ingroup identities and generate stability for a state’s population. SUT reveals how Erdoğan utilized the Obama-mania in Turkey to create a personal bond with Obama which linked himself, and his policies, to Obama and his progressive policies. Future research can deploy SUT to make sense of other claims of friendship and special relationships between states and between state leaders.

Turkey, United States, Obama, Erdoğan, collective emotions, friendship,
Political Psychology
Department of History

van Hoef, Y., & O'Connor, Ryan. (2019). Sentimental Utility Theory: Interpreting the Utilization of Collective Emotions by the Political Elite Through the Erdoğan‐Obama Friendship. Political Psychology, 40(6). doi:10.1111/pops.12611