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Opinion

Opinion: The party landscape has changed

It 's not the end of the world. Germany has not gone under and the chancellor has said she is sticking to her refugee policy. But those will not be the only consequences of the AfD’s upsurge, says DW’s Dagmar Engel.

One does not just get up and move on after having being woken up with a nasty hangover after bad election results. Sunday's political earthquake has shaken Germany's established political parties. As the Christian Democratic Union's (CDU) party chairwoman, even the stoic Angela Merkel is worried.

Horst Seehofer, chairman of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), even believes that the very existence of the Christian Democrats is under threat.

Social Democrat Party (SPD) chairman, Sigmar Gabriel, prefers not to discuss whether the SPD still deserves to be called a mainstream party now that it has fallen behind the AfD in two German states.

Engel Dagmar Kommentarbild App

DW's Dagmar Engel

The Greens have also kept a low profile after they just barely made it into parliament in two states. The left-wing party, die Linke, did not even manage that much. The Free Democrats (FDP) gained a bit of ground again.

And the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) - or more precisely AfD voters - are responsible for upsetting the apple cart.

Clutter instead of structure

Things used to be easier in Germany when the country had three political parties: the CDU, SPD and FDP. The latter usually was the junior coalition partner in an SPD or CDU government. Politics were a fairly structured and clear-cut matter. It all began to dissolve when the Greens appeared; after them, came the left-wing PDS and its successor, die Linke. And now there is the AfD. Nothing is clear and simple anymore.

Those days will never return. The party landscape in Germany mirrors society and, paradoxically, AfD voters also contribute to that image. It is worth having a look at the part of the electorate that votes for this new party and what is on its mind. In Rhineland-Palatinate, around half of AfD voters consisted of workers and the unemployed and in Saxony-Anhalt; this group made up 70 percent of AfD voters. Overall, more men than women voted for the AfD. They are mostly white men with low levels of education – on the other side of the Atlantic; the equivalent would be Trump followers, who also feel the same as AfD voters do: They fear complexity, anything foreign, the loss of their own significance and the loss of anything that is familiar and makes an impact on everyday life. The same can be said for many AfD voters or anyone who voted for the same parties as in the past.

Future instead of past

The established parties have failed their electorate by not addressing its concerns. They do not pinpoint problems that people have and thus, they pave the way for politicians who act as though there were a way back to the old order, back to the days of safety and simplicity. No one has dared to say: "Everything is changing, permanently and probably at an ever-increasing pace – but we will not let anyone fall behind."

Developing a compelling vision for all is what any management 101 course will tell you, especially for those who fear change and resist it with all their might: It is about strong leadership skills. That is what successful party politics must achieve. And that is the message conveyed on Germany's Super Sunday.

(The stated figures and analyses are derived from surveys carried out by infratest dimap on behalf of ARD, a German public broadcaster, for the state elections on March 13, 2016)

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