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Germany

Merkel Better Than Expected in Debate

The polls are showing that Chancellor Schröder won the TV debate against his challenger, but Angela Merkel exceeded expectations and won the arguably most important segment of the debate.

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Schröder may have won, but Merkel took everybody by surprise

Angela Merkel, leader of the German conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and challenger to Chancellor Schröder in the upcoming German elections, did better than expected in Sunday's televised duel between the two candidates, according to pollsters.

Fifty-four percent of the viewers found that Merkel had exceeded their expectations, whereas only 18 percent said the same of Schröder.

The political duel -- branded as the "TV event of the year" in Germany -- had an estimated audience of almost 21 million viewers on Sunday.

Overall winner with a weak point

Journalisten verfolgen auf Bildschirmen das TV-Duell von Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schroeder, rechts, und der CDU-Vorsitzenden Angela Merkel in einem Pressezentrum in Berlin

Journalists watch the debate at the berlin studio on Sunday

Forty-eight percent of the viewers polled thought Schröder had won the debate, whereas only 28 percent believed that Merkel had come out as winner. The chancellor came across as a more trustworthy candidate, winning 39 percent of votes in this category against his challenger, who gained only 18 percent. The TV viewers also clearly decided that the relaxed and confident Schröder, who is known in Germany as "media chancellor," presented himself as a more likeable character.

Yet when it came to the single most important election issue -- the question of the staggering unemployment rate in Germany -- the polls have shown that 35 percent of the viewers believed Merkel was better fit to solve the problem of unemployment in Germany. Only 10 percent of the viewers expressed their confidence in Schröder's competence on this point.

It's not over till it's over

Wahl Fernsehduell Merkel - Schröder

It has been described as the "TV event of the year"

According to political scientist Thorsten Faas from the University of Duisburg, the viewers' assessment of the debate could still change in the following days. Political commentaries and the mass media play an important part in shaping public opinion.

"A candidate could read the phone book to their supporters and the supporters would still see their candidate as the winner," said Faas.

The group of voters that is most likely to be influenced by the debate are the so-called undecided -- those who started watching the debate without a clear preference for either of the two candidates.

According to the polls, 56 percent of the undecided found Chancellor Schröder convincing, whereas only 19 percent of the undecided voters were convinced by Merkel. When asked whether the debate would help them make their decision, 46 percent of the undecided said 'yes,' whereas 52 percent said 'no.'

Claiming victory

Representatives from both parties tried to capitalize on the poll results and claim victory for themselves.

Franz Müntefering Wahlprogramm der SPD

Confident about Schröder's performance in the debate: SPD party leader Franz Müntefering

Franz Müntefering, chairman of Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SPD), said the debate had shown that the conservative movement in Germany expressed no interest in social justice.

"There is a kind of social coldness around Merkel," Müntefering said."I believe it's good that people see it that way, and that they can decide, who they want to vote for."

Volker Kauder neuer CDU Generalsekretär

We've won: CDU party general secretary Volker Kauder

CDU Secretary General Volker Kauder praised Merkel for her performance.

"Angela Merkel has won the debate. People could see that here is someone who knows what she wants, and how she can bring her country forward," Kauder said.

Family affairs

Schröder's supporters, however, seemed to have been somewhat baffled by Schröder's declaration of love for his wife in the midst of the debate.

When asked if he had approved of a recent interview in which his wife, Doris Schröder-Köpf, said Merkel couldn't understand the issues facing German families today because she was childless, the chancellor responded, not without pathos, that he loved his wife because she thought and lived what she said.

Schröder's party colleague German Interior Minister Otto Schily said that the chancellor could have done without that comment.

"But everybody has their own style," Schily said.

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