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19 September 2013

German election round-up: Polls narrow as campaigns draw to a close

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Germany's slow-burning election campaign has finally sprung into life with just a few days to go, as controversy and shifting voter sentiment force some parties to fight for their political survival. Which coalition will ultimately rule is more uncertain than ever.

Partially translated from the German

The latest figures

A new Forsa poll predicts that Chancellor Merkel’s governing coalition would fall short of parliamentary majority. The poll puts the CDU/CSU on 39 per cent, the SPD on 25 per cent, Die Linke on 10 per cent, the Greens on 9 per cent, the FDP on 5 per cent and the Pirate party on 3 per cent. While in this poll the the new anti-euro party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) get around 3 per cent of the votes, in the latest Insa poll for Bild, they are reported to be reaching the 5 per cent threshold to enter the Bundestag. 


As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, however, political polls in Germany must be digested with great caution: The biggest ones are conducted by organisations close to the major parties. Even AfD has been running a mood-manipulation campaign by highlighting the supposed anti-AfD biases in other polls' methodologies. 

But given the German political mainstream's monolithic consensus on eurozone issues, the AfD is positioned to capture disenchanted voters from all major parties. More Germans this year say they plan to make up their minds at the last minute. The AfD could make a big, disruptive debut on Sunday and the  AfD has emerged as the only group seriously challenging the two dominant mainstream parties, writes the Financial Times (subscription required).  German TV station ZDF agreed that the AfD has the biggest potential to surprise and shake up the election results this weekend. 

Meanwhile, in an interview with Die Zeit, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that the AfD's anti-euro policy was completely wrong, bore no credibility and was extremely dangerous for Germany's and Europe's prosperity. The Telegraph quoted him warning the Germans of movements such as UKIP: "In the UK there is a political movement with a high degree of euroscepticism. In France, many fear that at the European elections the National Front will be the strongest party. I am thankful that we in Germany, perhaps because of our history, are a little cautious of demagogury and right-leaning ideas."


As the Wall Street Journal reported, the leaders of Chancellor Angela Merkel's current coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party, were left pleading for votes after a disastrous defeat in Bavarian regional elections last weekend. According to the Spiegel, the fight for the CDU supporters' second vote is becoming increasingly fierce. In an interview with n-tv, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle criticised the CDU's attitude, saying that he found it "a little presumptuous" to say that they had no votes to lend. It wasn't the CDU giving them votes, after all "but the citizens". 

Angela Merkel and her party colleagues have meanwhile announced a campaign "until the last minute". With the slogan "two crosses, four [more] years", Merkel underscored that the CDU could not spare any votes for the struggling coalition partner. 


Ms Merkel's main rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), are still trying to live down the furore over a recent magazine cover showing their lead candidate, Peer Steinbrück, flipping his middle finger, a photograph he posed for and authorised in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Still, the Social Democrats have gained slight momentum in the last few weeks after Steinbrück did well in the TV debate with Merkel. In Bavaria, the SPD gained 2 percentage-points – no tailwind, but better than expected. At federal level, the polling average moved up to 26 per cent. What remains for the SPD is to mobilise 'lost' voters, writes Michael Miebach for Policy Network. Almost a third of the voters remained undecided days before the election.


Even with mobilised non-voters, prospects are fading for a Green-SPD coalition, writes Quentin Peel for the Financial Times (subscription required).

The Greens, part of a centre-left opposition that still claims to hope they may oust Ms Merkel, are reeling from revelations about their past tolerance of a pro-paedophilia faction within their ranks, as reported by the Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung.


Amid the ructions, the Chancellor's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) appears an island of calm, but it has the problem that opinion polls show its support is stagnant at around or just under 40 per cent. Analysts warn the CDU might indeed lose votes to its FDP ally.

If the centre-right falls short, Ms Merkel is widely expected to seek another "grand coalition" with the SPD, as in her first term. Most pundits are unwilling to bet on the outcome — but many see a shift in probabilities, away from the centre-right coalition and toward a cross-aisle pact, writes the Wall Street Journal.

See also YouGov Deutschland poll for Open Europe and Open Europe Berlin: German voters’ sentiments on the EU

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