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Germany

Latest Opinion Polls Give Schröder a Boost

Buoyed by recent public opinion polls, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder tells his party that self-confidence is the recipe for victory in upcoming national elections.

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Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (left) and Chanceller Gerhard Schröder are fighting hard for reelection

If the Germans were to elect their leaders directly, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder would have very little to worry about.

According to the Forsa Institute's latest survey, the Social Democrat incumbent would win 43 percent of the vote, as opposed to 30 percent for conservative opponent Edmund Stoiber. With less than three months to go until election day, it's hard to see how the chancellor could be beaten in a two man race.

But in Germany, the head of government is elected by parliament and is more dependent on public support for his party and coalition allies than on personal popularity.

For months now, the center-left Social Democrats and their coalition partners, the environmentalist Alliance 90/The Greens, have been lagging behind the opposition in every single poll taken.

In recent polls, Germans said they detected little difference between the two political camps on most major political issues. But many tend to blame the current government for the country’s economic problems and high unemployment figure of almost four million.

A changing tide?

This week's news doesn't constitute an about-turn in public opinion. Schröder's SPD may be catching up with its Christian Democrat rivals, but the center-right camp still commands a comfortable majority in the latest surveys.

The Forsa Institute predicted that Stoiber's CDU/CSU alliance would get 39 percent of the vote. A further nine would go to their likely coalition partners, the liberal, free-market oriented Free Democrats (FDP). The same poll put the SPD at 36 percent, with six percent going to the Greens. The Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research forecasted that the Union bloc would secure 38 percent of the vote, with the SPD trailing at 33 percent.

All the same, just a week ago, Forsa was still predicting a comfortable 50 percent for the conservative opposition - and Allensbach now also has the ruling coalition gaining points.

So, understandably, SPD secretary general Franz Müntefering prefers to concentrate on the trend, rather than the overall figures. "If we continue this way, we'll be in front," he told Social Democrat election candidates in Berlin. And Schröder added that "self-confidence and attack" were the recipe for success on September 22.

Soccer and unemployment

Pollsters say several recent developments are boosting the Schröder's chances – ranging from petty conflicts within the opposition ranks to Germany’s relative success in the recent soccer World Cup. But Forsa's researchers said a new stance on employment has probably provided the most significant boost.

The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says that the SPD feels it has regained leadership of the public debate over the issue, having enthusiastically embraced sweeping reform proposals put forward by a government-appointed commission.

The commission, headed by Volkswagen management board member and personnel director Peter Hartz, has yet to release its final report. But interim findings show that it will be urging the government to reduce unemployment benefits and create more flexibility in the labor market.

While conservative politicians have given those suggestions a very mixed reception, Schröder has been able to rally his party’s top brass to the reformist bugle call. He has also utilized the SPD’s traditional ties with the unions to increase support for the commission's ideas. The chairman of the trade union federation DGB, Michael Sommer, told the newspaper Die Zeit that some of the proposals were "among the most innovative we have seen for years."

How much harm did anti-Semitism allegations cause?

The latest polls differ significantly on the opposition's popularity. While Forsa now has the Free Democrats and the Christian Democrats at well below half of the vote, Allensbach still detects a 51 percent majority that would be enough to force out the current government led by the Social Democrats and the Greens.

The discrepancy between the two forecasts is largely due to marked differences on the FDP's chances. Whereas Forsa sees the liberals stagnating at around nine percent, Allensbach has them gaining 0.7 percentage points in the last fortnight and set to win 13 percent of the overall vote.

The latest figures suggest that a row over alleged anti-Semitic remarks made by the FDP's deputy leader, Jürgen Möllemann, did not damage the party for the long-term.