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Opinion

Opinion: A vote on the refugee crisis

All of Germany will be looking carefully at the results of the first state elections since the start of the refugee crisis. DW's Felix Steiner says it’s hard to predict how voters will react.

It's rare for state elections like those happening this Sunday to take on such national significance. Even people outside of Germany want to know: Will Angela Merkel's CDU party be punished for her having opened the borders to refugees last summer? And if so, who will profit from her party's losses? Are anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic parties going to make gains in Germany? And what does that mean for the government? Is Merkel on shaky ground?

The tension is also high because it's very hard to make any reliable predictions in these elections. There are no clear winners in any of the three states that are voting. There have been huge changes since the last elections took place, and equally huge shifts in public opinion.

AfD - the party the refugee crisis made

One of the reasons for this is the "Alternative for Germany" party (AfD). Until last summer, it was mostly focused on party infighting, but has since positioned itself on the far right. Now, it's swimming on a wave of success because of the refugee crisis. Even though the party is sorely lacking in realistic political concepts, disaffected voters from all political camps may be looking to send a signal by lending the AfD their support. That could be the case for about 10 percent of voters - and even close to 20 percent in eastern Germany. Come Sunday evening, it could be even more, because those who vote for such protest parties are often reluctant to admit their intentions in pre-election polls.

Steiner Felix Kommentarbild App

DW's Felix Steiner

But that's not the only reason that predictions have been so hard to make: On Thursday, more than a third of voters said they were still undecided. So it's safe to say that surprises are in store.

For example, it's absolutely not clear who will benefit from some of the absurd contradictions this week. Will it be the chancellor, who suddenly achieved her goal of a massive reduction in the number of refugees coming to Germany, but who is now unhappy with how other people got the job done for her? Will most Germans be happy about the closure of the Balkan route, or are they upset by the images of misery and human suffering coming out of Idomeni? Will voters punish all the CDU candidates who have openly opposed Merkel in recent weeks? Or will voters turn away from the CDU because of Merkel's choices?

Anything can happen

For the CDU, anything can happen on Sunday: A total catastrophe, should the party lose its traditional status as the strongest party in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate; or an absolute success, should three CDU candidates be elected state premier. Only three things are certain so close to the vote:

1. The smaller the voter turnout, the greater the success of the AfD. Radical protest voters always show up to vote, unlike disaffected mainstream voters.

2. The AfD - even if it were to achieve 25 percent – will not be able to influence policy in Germany, because no one wants to form a coalition with a far-right party. And that is a good thing.

3. Angela Merkel will still be chancellor come the end of next week. Even if her CDU suffers a crushing defeat, there's no alternative to her, either in her party or within the government, who could reckon with majority support. And if Julia Klöckner loses in Rhineland-Palatinate, then the CDU will even have one less promising future candidate.

Brace yourselves for an exciting election night.

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