German Elections – One Last Snapshot

Published on September 20, 2013

The last poll from one of the two major German pollsters, Forschungsgruppe, continues to indicate that Sunday’s elections in Germany will be a close race. A poll just out by INSA shows an even closer race between the two broad coalitions, causing some degree of anxiety within the Christian Democrats, although INSA polls are conducted for the Bild and should thus be regarded with a small touch of skepticism.

The Forschungsgruppe polls have the CDU and the Christian Social Union unchanged at 40%, the Social Democrats rising one point to 27%, the Free Democrats down 0.5 to 5.5%, the Left up 0.5 to 8.5%, the Greens continuing to slide, down 2 to 9%, with the Alternative for Deutschland, or AfD unchanged at 4%.

The INSA/Bild polls have the CDU/CSU at 38%, the SPD at 28%, the FDP at 6%, the Left at 9%, and the Greens at 8%, with the AfD right on the cusp of gaining Bundestag representation at 5%.

*** Perhaps most importantly, two-thirds of voters have decided on their vote, while an unusually large 32% are not sure who they will vote for – if they vote. A large bloc of these voters are the so-called “Merkel Democrats,” SPD voters leaning to Merkel’s CDU. This last undecided vote is the swing factor to look for on Sunday, with the main questions being: will the CDU manage to keep up their performance, and how will SPD voters react to the fact that there is close to zero chance the next chancellor will be from the SPD – frustration, abstention? ***

*** We expect overall turnout to be lower than the norm, and this could give an advantage to the smaller, more ideologically driven parties. So while the AfD has consistently polled under the 5% threshold, there is a chance the AfD will be represented in the next Bundestag, which could come at the expense of the FDP and Left votes. An AfD break of 5%, or a slimmer majority with the FDP, would lend even greater popular and political momentum to Angela Merkel’s drift toward a Grand Coalition with the SPD (see SGH 9/17/13, “German Elections: Grand Coalition Increasingly Likely”). ***

AfD Creep, FDP Slip, and CDU Anxiety

It is hard at this point to try and quantify the momentum or impact of the new party on the block, the AfD, as pollsters are still not sure how much to weigh the possible hesitance of some of the polled population to admit to favoring those “cranky odd guys.”

The polls nevertheless do show the AfD creeping up closer to the magic 5% threshold, drawing votes now both from the FDP and the Left. The FDP did not help itself by recently issuing a demand to have the ESM be of temporary nature, rather than a permanent instrument, which was not very well communicated and only served to add to the confusion about the course and strategy of the FDP.

And that demand has only served to exacerbate the image of an internally riven FDP, strengthening party rebels under Frank Schaeffler, a prominent critic of the Euro policy management of party chairman Philipp Roesler, who was responsible for the member ballot about the EURO in 2011 that led to the demise of the then secretary General, Christian Lindner.

In any case, the AfD is getting prominent attention of its own these days, and that will certainly help their efforts to turn out the protest vote. We would not be surprised if at this point they actually do make it into the Bundestag on Sunday.

For their part Chancellor Merkel and CDU officials are also not amused by a recent misstep by Volker Bouffier, the Prime Minister of Hesse, who is also running for re-election in the state on Sunday, which made headline news for two days in a row.

On Wednesday, Bouffier badly fumbled a question on whether or not the CDU would “talk” to the AfD in case they needed their votes. The question originated from the SPD being criticized for NOT ruling out talks with DIE LINKE (Left party) in Hesse even though they were a “radical” party. The SPD asked why not the same question be put to the CDU vis-a-vis the AfD?

It was, and Bouffier walked right into the trap, saying there since there was a difference between the two – the AfD being firmly constitutional while the Left was based on communist ideology – so he would have no problem talking to the AfD. Merkel reportedly was not amused.

In the last few days the CDU has been pulling out all stops stressing the need for BOTH of the electorates’ two votes that are to be cast on Sunday. Tellingly, while the main rally to close the campaign in previous years has been typically held on Friday, with Saturday being the day where all candidates go home for canvassing, this time around the campaign will go on right until Sunday, with a huge rally in Berlin where Merkel will speak.

Despite the narrowing polls and anxiety all around over margins that will matter greatly for negotiating position in potential coalition talks, the good news for Merkel is that her main opponent still remains the middle-finger waving prone Peer Steinbrueck.

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