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Merkel takes to YouTube to woo young voters

August 16, 2017

The chancellor spent an hour on Wednesday answering questions from four social-media stars. DW watched the event with three first-time German voters. So, did the chancellor make the grade when talking to young people?

Deutschland Merkel Interview mit YouTubern
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

Merkel answers YouTubers' questions

Lisa (19), Johanna (19) and Kilian (18) say they're not completely certain how they'll fill out their ballots when they vote for the first time on September 24. In a campaign event aimed at precisely people their age, Angela Merkel went on YouTube to field queries from four successful video bloggers whose normal specialties range from political science to technology to fashion to lifestyle and sex tips.

The event started with the blogger ItsColeslaw asking the chancellor about education, equality of opportunity for young people from families not educated in universities and Merkel's "no" vote on same-sex marriage.

ItsColeslaw complained that history instruction in German schools was too heavily slanted toward World War II, prompting Johanna to say, "So true." When Merkel was asked if she would do something to standardize school instruction, she responded that education was a matter for regional governments.

Lisa thought that Merkel and the young blogger hadn't truly been on the same wavelength.

"I don't think they really respected one another," Lisa said. But all three first-time voters agreed that Merkel had handled the situation reasonably well.

A test drive

Next up was AlexiBexi, a trained journalist, technology blogger and electric car owner, who began with the Dieselgate scandal and Merkel's position on e-mobility. The chancellor, a trained physicist, said that she would be consulting representatives from communities with inflated carbon dioxide levels on September 4, but it was clear that Merkel couldn't rattle off the science on this issue.

"The real problem is too few charging stations," Kilian said, prompting the new voters to discuss the advantages and problems of e-mobility. "Why don't members of the government ever take a Tesla out for a test drive?"

But the young people were very skeptical about Alexibexi's suggestion that e-car drivers should be allowed to charge for free.

"That would cost local governments a lot of money," Johanna said, more or less anticipating that the chancellor would respond that e-car drivers should pay for fuel just as operators of conventional vehicles do.

"That was much better than what the chancellor said in the first part," Kilian said. "It was more informative. I'm interested in e-mobility."

And they all rolled their eyes and scoffed when Alexibexi asked Merkel what her favorite emoji was.

Talking hate speech

Merkel Interview with youtube video bloggers
Four video bloggers peppered the chancellor with question Image: Reutes/A. Schmidt

Ischtar Isik went third. Critics had objected that the beauty and fashion tip blogger was an inappropriate choice for a political Q&A, but she confronted Merkel with some of the toughest topics.

Isik asked Merkel what she thought about declining voter turnout rates and challenged the chancellor to name two or three concrete things that she would do to address the problem. Merkel mentioned her podcast and Facebook and Instagram pages, but it was clear that new media wasn't the 64-year-old chancellor's strong suit.

The blogger then asked what it was like to work with would-be macho men and whether Merkel would support a 50 percent quota for women in the next cabinet.

"We'll probably be in a coalition so I can't speak for the other party," the chancellor said. "But I will make sure that women are appropriately represented in the cabinet."

Despite the chancellor's uneasiness with social-media topics and rather evasive answers on feminism, the three first-time voters felt that Merkel had given credible responses, particularly on questions of hate speech.

Understanding for discretion with Trump

Merkel interview with YouTube video bloggers
The Q&A session was carried lived on YouTube and a recording was postedImage: Reuters/A. Schmidt

The political scientist MrWissen2go, considered the heavyweight among the blogger-moderators, was last up. He challenged the chancellor on Germany's relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump. He said that many of his followers were afraid of war between the US and North Korea and asked what Merkel thought when she read Trump's incendiary tweets.

"I don't see this fear," Merkel said. "We're against any use of words that would escalate the situation. There is no military solution to this conflict. We'll make this point, and the others will see that this is true. Speech is often the initial stage of an escalation. I do everything in my power to combat this. That's the contribution that we can make, and we're making it."

"He's trying to get her to say something against the US," Lisa said. "But she's not going for it."

"I thought his questions were really problematic," Johanna said. "It was clear what he wanted, but it was just as clear that she wasn't going to give it to him. We're allies with the US. She probably has a different personal opinion. But she's the chancellor.

"It's completely understandable that she doesn't want to alienate the US," Lisa said.

The three youngsters - all students or former students of Berlin's English-German John F. Kennedy School - said that the media was stoking public fears of a new world war.

Jargon versus straightforward answers

Lisa, Johanna and Kilian all agreed that the event hadn't changed their preferences, but said Merkel put in a solid performance. Kilian said that he found the format "more informative" than a conventional television debate or Q&A session, but added that there were other, more political German video bloggers who might have made better questioners. No one liked the questions about emojis and social media that seemed to be specifically aimed at younger people.

"You noticed that many of the YouTube people weren't as well-informed as the chancellor and couldn't always ask follow-up questions where they should have," Lisa said.

Lisa said Merkel's weakest moments were when she resorted to "political jargon" and "evaded the question," for example, on education. But she liked Markel's "straightforward answers" on Erdogan.

Johanna said that there was one issue in particular she thought the YouTube event had missed.

"One question I would always like to ask is how she personally feels about the refugee issue," Johanna said. "She took decisions that made her look unpopular with a wide amount of people. I'd like to ask her why she still did it. As a politician she must have known that would make her unpopular. I have a lot of respect for that."

On one issue there is an absolute consensus. All three of these first-time voters think that Angela Merkel will be re-elected and give challenger Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats no chance.