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Opinion

Opinion: Merkel's surge in the polls means little

A nationwide poll shows Merkel's support rising by nine points. But DW's Simon Young sees no real surge in her popularity.

What do Germans really think of Angela Merkel? Do they believe that her refugee policy can be made to work, without bringing serious and lasting problems to Germany? And will Merkel run for a fourth term as chancellor?

Those questions lurk, for the moment at least, behind any attempt to analyze the never-ending stream of polls and surveys put out by the political number-crunchers of Berlin.

Just a few days ago, at the central celebrations to mark German reunification, held this year in Dresden, the Chancellor was subjected to a chorus of abuse. Whistle-blowing demonstrators, many of them supporters of the anti-immigration Pegida movement, shouted 'Merkel must go'.

But what's this? The latest infratest-dimap nationwide poll shows Merkel's support rising by nine points compared with the previous month. She's still way off the peak of her popularity - the 80 percent approval that she hit back at the beginning of her chancellorship - or even the solid 70-plus number she regularly achieved before the big flow of refugees began. But it's something for Merkel to smile about, right?

A nine percent boost sounds good, but the truth is that there is no real surge in her popularity. A solid, but slim, majority of Germans thinks Angela Merkel is still doing a good job. But 54% fits with the up-a-bit, down-a-bit trend of the past year. It leaves her with lower approval than either Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, or Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, neither of whom could be described as the people's darling.

Chancellor Merkel is in what is usually called a rut. And that is because Germans are uncertain about the way forward, particularly in relation to the refugees.

People are concerned by what they see as the growing influence of Islam, as well as by the pressure new arrivals put on housing. But Germans are also troubled by the home-grown divisions the refugees' arrival has exposed. More than eight in ten told the pollsters they were worried about right-wing violence.

Racism is hardly new, but there is a new sense that xenophobic hatred, which once lay dormant, or perhaps was quietly evaporating, has become established as a recurring phenomenon on the streets - in parts of Germany. Those ugly scenes in Dresden - along with arson attacks against asylum shelters, and many other violent incidents, are examples of a newly open aggression - which some people fear is influencing politicians, whether they like it or not.

Merkel has altered course on the refugee question. She has talked tougher in recent months, not least because she saw voters in several states turning away from the government parties and giving their support instead to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party (AfD). Merkel must be at least a little worried that the AfD could repeat that feat at the general election in a year's time.

There is little in this poll to encourage the chancellor. The two big parties can still scratch together just enough support to form yet another 'Grand Coalition' - but it's hardly resounding enthusiasm. A more conspicuous finding is the fact that almost half of those asked said they don't believe politicians know much about the real lives of ordinary people.

That suggests that, if Angela Merkel does want to continue as chancellor, she has a lot of work to do in the months before she finds out what the German people really think of her.

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