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AfD: German voters shift toward far right

August 4, 2023

The AfD continues to gain ground in opinion polls amid high dissatisfaction with the government. Support for ending the taboo on cooperating with the populists is growing.

Björn Höcke having powder applied to his upper lip in preparation of a TV interview
Mainstream parties debate how to deal with AfD representatives like the right-wing extremist Björn HöckeImage: Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has received another boost in the polls: If federal elections were held this week, the populist party would win 21% of the vote, putting it firmly in second place behind the center-right bloc of Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), which remain the strongest force at 27%, despite taking some small losses.

That is according to the latest edition of the representative "Deutschlandtrend" survey, for which pollster infratest reached out to 1,297 eligible voters via phone or email between July 31 and August 2.

As in the previous months' surveys, Germany's center-left government again failed to win a majority. Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democratic Party (SPD), the largest party in the three-way coalition, would garner 17% — down from 25.7% when it came to power in the last general election in 2021.

The Greens now have 15% support, which is what they had in that election — but a far cry from the high-flying 25% during a brief spike in popularity just over one year ago. The neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) stand at 7%, down from their strong showing of 11.5% in 2021.

The socialist Left Party was found to be slipping further. According to the latest survey, it would fail to clear the 5% threshold for representation in the federal parliament, the Bundestag.

Only one in five respondents said they were satisfied with the work of the federal government, and even within the ranks of the three parties' supporters, approval ratings are low.

Chancellor Scholz is also becoming increasingly unpopular: Only three out of 10 eligible voters (31%) say they are satisfied with his work, the lowest approval rating since he took office in December 2021.

Unfair conditions in Germany?

Voters are not only dissatisfied with the chancellor and his government, but also with the overall situation in the country. Some 58% say that burdens are not shared fairly in Germany. That feeling has to do with the distribution of wealth, but also with the fact that certain groups in the population feel that their views and interests are not being taken into account enough by the political mainstream.

Respondents to the survey believe that certain groups in society are not being heard by the political leadership, especially low-income earners, people in rural areas, pensioners and young families. As many as 62% of respondents said politicians focus too much on the interests of those who are wealthy, while 48% think that politicians focus too much on the needs of refugees.

Despite the fact that the opposition conservative parties are leading in the polls, only 19% said they believe that they would do a better job at solving the country's problems — in fact, 21% said they would do an even worse job, and 53% said they'd expect a conservative-led government's overall performance to be similar.

Dealing with the German far-right AfD on a local level

The CDU/CSU led Germany's federal governments for most of the almost 80 years since the end of World War II — in coalition with the FDP or SPD.

The low expectations for a CDU-led federal government correspond to the poor rating of CDU leader Friedrich Merz. Only three out of 10 respondents said they think he is a good party leader, and only 16% said they thought he would make a good chancellor. Perhaps even worse for Merz, only one in three CDU supporters want him to become the next head of government after the general election in 2025.

The CDU needs to work on itself

The Christian Democrats are also seen to have little to offer in terms of policy: Only 33% of CDU supporters said they know exactly what the party stands for, and a similar number, 31%, said they believe that the CDU has a feel for what's currently on people's minds.

The CDU/CSU has been thrown into turmoil by the question of whether the decision to disassociate itself from the far-right AfD should apply at all political levels. This comes after Merz suggested in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF in July that cooperation with AfD representatives on a local level was sensible common practice.He walked his comments back the following day in response to an immediate backlash, including from figures within his own party.

Overall, 64% of those surveyed for the Deutschlandtrend poll said they think it is right for the CDU to rule out cooperation with the AfD in principle, while 29% are open to considering it. However, there are considerable differences when the western and eastern German states are considered separately.

While two-thirds of eligible voters in western Germany welcome the CDU's official stance of rejecting cooperation with the AfD, in eastern Germany, the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), only half of the eligible voters agree. There, the AfD is the strongest party, polling at over 30%.

Some 70% of all respondents called for more pragmatism: They say that support of individual AfD motions in the parliaments of cities, municipalities and districts should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

In eastern Germany, as many as 81% of respondents said they were in favor of more pragmatism, compared with 67% in western Germany. Nationwide, it is only Green supporters (51%) where a majority say that all AfD motions should be rejected on principle.

This article was originally written in German.

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