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Poll: Social Democrats gaining ground

August 5, 2021

Less than two months before the general election, current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz is emerging as the most popular candidate to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Olaf Scholz speaking into a microphone at an SPD event
SPD Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz's relative popularity is benefitting his partyImage: Fabian Sommer/dpa/picture alliance

On September 26, Germany holds a general election, which will also determine who takes over from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is not standing for reelection after 16 years in office.

Just months ago, almost everything pointed to a clear election victory for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) — which has been the case for the most past seven decades. 

Back then, in mathematical terms, things looked good for a coalition government of the conservatives with the Green Party for months. Together they were predicted to receive an impressive 57%.

Then support for the CDU/CSU fell well below 30%, and they were temporarily overtaken by the Green Party in May's Deutschlandtrend poll by the Infratest dimap institute. Still, it seemed clear that either CDU chairman and candidate for the chancellorship, Armin Laschet, would succeed Merkel, or it would be the Green Party's candidate, Annalena Baerbock. 

image showing poll results
August opinion poll: Which party to voters prefer?

Three months later, the winds have shifted considerably: in the latest Deutschlandtrend poll, the CDU/CSU and the Green party are only at a combined 46%.

The Social Democrats (SPD), who have been the junior coalition partner of the CDU/CSU for many years, have long been predicted to get significantly less support than the 20% they earned at the previous general election in 2017.

But now figures show that SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz may hope to lead a government composed of his party, the Green Party, and the pro-free market Free Democrats (FDP). Only one percentage point separates his party from the Greens. If the SPD and Greens work together with the FDP, the trio could form a so-called traffic light coalition — named for the colors of the three parties: red, green, and yellow.

If the SPD can sustain its support and the CDU/CSU does not lose any more ground, the two parties could also renew their previous coalition. Whether the two parties would still be able to find political common ground is an entirely different issue.

Image showing preferences for party to head the next coalition government

If Germans could vote directly for their chancellor, Olaf Scholz would be in the lead. With 35%, the SPD candidate is far ahead of Armin Laschet (29%) following his recent blunders and Annalena Baerbock (16%), whose campaign has taken several blows. The lead is even clearer when it comes to the question of how satisfied voters are with the work of the trio: Scholz is the clear leader with 48%, Baerbock comes in at 27%, and Laschet lagging behind at 24%. The undisputed leader in this category remains Angela Merkel with 66% even at the end of her fourth term in office. 

The chancellor of 16 years still enjoys a high level of approval: 75% think the Christian Democrat leader has been a good chancellor. With the exception of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), she maintains this high level of approval from supporters of all parties. Well over two-thirds of respondents find Angela Merkel to be competent, a strong leader, trustworthy and likable. 

image showing extent of support for Angela Merkel

But until she leaves office, Angela Merkel will continue to have to deal with one of the biggest challenges during her tenure: the COVID pandemic.

Several questions were again asked about this in the August Deutschlandtrend. The research team asked what percentage of respondents were willing to be vaccinated. According to the survey, a total of 12% said "probably will not get vaccinated" or "definitely will not" get vaccinated. The main objection cited by 69%  of those who opposed being vaccinated was concern about unknown health consequences.


image showing how willing people are to get vaccinated against COVID

This article was translated from German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year's elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.
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