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13 August 2021updated 04 Sep 2021 12:10pm

Germany’s CDU/CSU alliance is on course for its worst election result in postwar history

The CDU candidate Armin Laschet has alienated German voters – but his opponents have failed to win them over.

By Ben Walker

There are six weeks to go until the federal German elections on Sunday 26 September, and Armin Laschet – Angela Merkel’s successor as party-leader – is in trouble.

Laschet, the CDU’s candidate who was chosen to replace the chancellor of 16 years, has not only taken a personal hit in the polls, but so has his party.

In February, the CDU/CSU alliance was polling with 34 to 36 per cent of the vote – numbers that, if repeated at an election, would have been up on what Chancellor Merkel received in 2017.

Today our New Statesman poll tracker puts the alliance on 26 per cent, with some polls putting them on even 24 and 22 per cent. If nothing changes come election day, such a result would be the worst the alliance has had in postwar German history.

Who is set to gain from the CDU/CSU’s increasingly low share of the vote? In party terms, no-one in particular. Or rather, everyone. A reduction in willingness among Merkel’s 2017 backers to turn out at the ballot box for Laschet is what is pulling the polls down currently, as opposed to Christian Democrat voters defecting en masse to other parties. As such, support for the Greens, Social Democrats, Free Democrats and, even, the far-right, has seen a slight uptick in recent weeks. 

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Armin Laschet sends the CDU/CSU into freefall
New Statesman tracker of the latest polls

Laschet has succeeded in driving away his party’s voters, but his opponents have failed to win them round to their side.

This hasn’t, however, stopped his opponents from scoring improvements in their personal ratings. Germany’s Social Democrats, relegated to third place by the Greens in the latest polls, has seen its candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, experience an upswing.

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Who do Germans want to be their next chancellor?
Public preference for chancellor when given the options of Armin Laschet (CDU/CSU), Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Annalena Baerbock (Green).
Source: New Statesman tracker of the latest polls

According to the PolitBarometer published by the broadcaster ZDF, Scholz is the most popular of the country’s new chancellor candidates, topping the surveys in both public preference for the role and general favourability.

Whether that translates into votes for the SPD, and undermines the sweeping global narrative of social democracy in retreat, is yet to be seen. 

And for Laschet? When approached on the subject of his own ratings, Laschet gave the following dismissive answer: “Polls go up and down.”

Though this is true, for Laschet they’ve only been going down since July. 

Olaf Scholz is the only candidate of the three main chancellor candidates to have net public approval
Net approval of German politicians, ZDF polling

It is unclear whether it will stay that way. The CDU/CSU are not losing voters to its opponents. Rather, their base is unenthused and unwilling to commit. CDU canvassers could, therefore, find their “get out to vote” operation an easier task than were it an issue of winning back defectors.

In a previous piece, I wrote that it was “all to play for” in Germany. While the Green party’s Annalena Baerbock seems less relevant to the debate on who will be next chancellor than a few weeks ago, she and her party may yet fill the part of kingmaker in Germany’s next government. But with six weeks to go, the race is still open.

[Listen to: Why European social democracy is in crisis]