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Far-right AfD emerges as Germany's second strongest party

July 7, 2023

Voter discontent with Germany's coalition government has reached a high point. The far-right populists are the only opposition party to benefit from this trend, according to the latest Deutschlandtrend survey.

The logo of the AfD parliamentary group in the Bundestag
The AfD is profiting from German voters' discontent with their governmentImage: Jens Krick/Flashpic/picture alliance

There's evidence of a political shift in Germany: The Alternative for Germany (AfD), parts of which are considered right-wing extremists, managed two unprecedented local election victories in the country's east and now fields a district administrator and a mayor for the first time. And in the eastern state of Thuringia, polls recently put the AfD at 34%, way ahead of all other parties.

But the populists are also continuing to make gains at the federal level: The latest infratest dimap opinion poll surveyed 1,305 eligible German voters between July 3 and 5 and found the AfD to have 20% voter support across the country. This makes them Germany's second strongest political force, behind only the center-right alliance of the Christian Democrat Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) who lost 1% support since June and now stand at 28%.

Meanwhile, the governing three-way coalition is still unable to claim a majority of support across the country: Chancellor Olaf Scholz's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) remain at 18%, the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) at 7%, and the environmentalist Greens drop by another percentage point to only 14% — their worst proportion in five years.

The smallest opposition party in parliament, the socialist Left Party — which galvanized anti-government sentiment in the east of the country for years after German reunification — would even fall below the 5% mark, the threshold for representation in the federal parliament, the Bundestag.

More support for right-wing opinions

Voters are less apprehensive of the AfD and its policies than they used to be: 69% of respondents still believe that there are too many right-wing extremists in the AfD — but six years ago, the figure was at 85%. And approval for the AfD's restrictive stance on immigration is on the rise.

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2015 and 2016, mostly fleeing the civil war in Syria, prompted the rise of the AfD on the coattails of a racist and xenophobic protest movement that began in the east of the country. In 2017, just over a third of voters across the country said they thought it was good that the AfD wanted to limit the influx of foreigners and refugees more than other parties. But now, this figure has risen to 42%.

Now, 55% say they appreciate the AfD's clear stance on many issues and 53% say the AfD has a better understanding of people's security needs than any of the other parties. Only the CDU/CSU score even better marks on security policy.

Is the 'firewall' against the AfD crumbling?

A significant proportion of AfD supporters say they'd vote for the right-wing party primarily out of dissatisfaction with the other parties, and not because they actually agree with its far-right beliefs. But 77% of AfD supporters say that the party's positions are really "close" or even "very close" (20%) to their own.

So far, all other major German parties have categorically rejected any cooperation with the AfD, and 43% of voters agree with this position. But many now say they are in favor of a more nuanced, case-by-case decision.

More than any other party, the AfD is benefiting from voter dissatisfaction with the federal government. Overall, only about 25% are currently satisfied with the government's performance.

Even among supporters of the SPD and the Greens, the government's approval rating is only at about 50%, and FDP supporters have long been even more critical.

The infratest dimap pollsters detected a deep sense of uncertainty in Germany. Although the mood is not as grim as it was last fall, 77% of those polled say they are worried about the overall situation in the country. Inflation, climate change and immigration top the list of concerns, while only 16% still cite the war in Ukraine, 15% worry about the rise of the AfD and 11% about the state of the German economy.

Although many say climate change is an important issue, few want to see strict measures to combat it. Voters seem to be very critical of the Greens' policies and their attempts to speed up environmental legislation. And 80% of AfD supporters, 74% of FDP supporters, and 64% of CDU/CSU supporters reject the concept of bans and severe restrictions in order to combat climate change.

This article was originally written in German.

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