The AfD party has pulled ahead of Germany's traditional center-left Social Democrats in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. A new poll has come out ahead of key regional elections across the country.
Three weeks ahead of important regional elections, a new poll published on Monday has caused some consternation amongst Germany's established political parties.
The survey, conducted for the popular "Bild" newspaper, has shown that the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is ahead of leftists the Social Democrats (SPD) in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
The AfD now has the support of 17 percent of voters in the eastern state, a surge of 12 points since September. It's likely no coincidence that this increase in popularity has come at the same time as Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy to migrants, particularly Syrian refugees.
Originally founded as an euroskeptic alternative to Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), the AfD has changed its major policy platform in recent months, moving away from leaving the euro currency and towards opposing the chancellor's stance on Europe's refugee crisis. With the public divided on allowing an unprecedented number of foreign asylum seekers into the country, the AfD has capitalized on those more wary of migration, particularly in the former east.
AfD looks for wins in three states
The "Bild" poll had the SPD at 16 percent in Saxony-Anhalt, with the CDU clearly out in front at 30 percent. Leftists in the state did not need to totally despair, however, as the more socialist Left party was still much stronger than the AfD with 17 percent support from voters.
The western states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate were also set for regional elections that may prove to have surprising results. The newspaper poll showed that in Baden-Württemberg, the birthplace of the CDU, Chancellor Merkel's party had only a percentage point above the Green party at 30 and 30.5 percent respectively. Rhineland-Palatinate was a close call between the two traditional parties, with the CDU at 35 points and the SPD at 33.
In all three states, the AfD looked likely to gain seats in parliament as popularity soared past the five percent threshold needed to enter German legislatures.
The case of Bautzen showed how divided the German public has become as crowds are said to have cheered at the inflagation of a planned refugee home
AfD leader slams accusation of 'spritual arson'
The poll numbers may have been welcome news to AfD leader Frauke Petry on Monday, who was called to defend some of the party's recent rhetoric. After taking over in a power struggle with founder and now ex-leader Bernd Lucke over the summer, Petry has repeatedly found herself in hot water over her comments on refugees.
In January she caused national outrage by suggesting border guards should use their weapons on illegal border-crossers, a statement she almost immediately backpedaled on - but not before Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of the SPD suggested she be put on the national intelligence watchlist.
Petry denied that her party has helped to stoke anti-immigrant hatred a day after a former hotel being turned into a refugee home was set on fire in the town of Bautzen in Saxony. The party leader argued that the AfD represented a "very necessary" alternative to traditional parties.
She also decried comments from Bautzen's mayor that she and her party had committed "spiritual arson" with their politics.
"To say something like that about a political opponent is cheap polemics," said Petry, adding that renewed calls from the SPD to have her investigated were "laughable."