1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

SPD makes big gains against Merkel's CDU

Rina Goldenberg
September 2, 2021

With less than four weeks to go, a leading opinion poll has seen the downward trend of the ruling CDU continue. The conservatives have been overtaken by the center-left SPD, which has seen its best poll result in years.

Olaf Scholz waving from a stage at an SPD event
The Social Democrat candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is seen to have given his party a significant boostImage: LEON KUEGELER/REUTERS

For the first time in over four years, Germany's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) have taken a lead over the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), according to a new Deutschlandtrend survey.

The CDU/CSU has been in a coalition government with the SPD for the past eight years.

In its latest monthly survey, pollster Infratest dimap on Thursday put the Social Democrats at 25% with the CDU/CSU at a historic low of only 20%, having polled 1,337 eligible voters this week.

The SPD won 20.5% of the votes in the last general election in 2017, with the CDU/CSU taking 32.9%.

The Green party, which was flying high in April this year, has also continued its downward turn and polled at 16%, the weakest showing since September 2018. The pro-free market Free Democrats (FDP) stands at 13%, followed by the far-right populist AfD. The Left party remained unchanged at 6%.

A separate poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper last week also showed the SPD in the lead at 24%, three points ahead of the CDU/CSU alliance at 21%.

The latest results open up a wide range of coalition possibilities for government building after the September 26 election.

An infographic showing the results of the latest opinion poll

Olaf Scholz in the lead

Germans don't vote directly for the head of government, the chancellor. After 16 years in office, Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping down, although she still tops approval ratings in the latest survey.

But Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the SPD's top candidate, is not far behind her in the Deutschlandtrend popularity ratings.

Scholz is by far the most popular of the three candidates for chancellor. Compared to his competitors — Armin Laschet for the CDU/CSU and Annalena Baerbock for the Greens — Scholz is seen as the most likable and credible. He is also considered to have the best leadership skills.

The SPD candidate's popularity has directly benefited the party. A quarter of those who said they would vote for the SPD said it was mainly because of their belief in Scholz and his leadership qualities.

Infographic showing the popularity of the top three chancellor candidates

Climate change tops the to-do list

Voters trust the SPD when it comes to ensuring adequate wages, securing old-age pensions, family policies and child care. The CDU/CSU continues to win over most voters in the area of economic policy and in dealing with the COVID crisis. As before, the Greens are considered to have the greatest competence in environmental and climate policy. And the FDP has digitization as its area of expertise.

There has been a significant shift in what German voters see as the most important topics for the next government. One-third said environmental protection and climate change were the most pressing issues. Before the last general election in 2017, only one in 10 had put these topics at the top of their list.

Now, 20% of those polled said immigration was the most important topic — down from 47% four years ago.

Other major topics this year include the handling of the COVID pandemic, which 20% of those polled put at the top of their list of political priorities. One in six people raised the issue of social injustice, and one in seven said old-age pensions.

Coalition options

The strongest party usually names the chancellor and heads a potential coalition government. With the predicted election result, a number of three-way coalitions would be mathematically possible: The SPD could enter an alliance with the Greens and the FDP, or with the CDU/CSU and the FDP, or with CDU/CSU and Greens. But they could also go for a left-wing coalition with the Greens and the Left party — something the conservatives have long been warning against.

But other combinations are also possible. Even if the SPD were to become the strongest party in the Bundestag, the FDP and Greens could also opt to team up with the CDU/CSU, leaving the SPD out in the cold. What does not seem possible at the moment is a two-party coalition, as no combination would garner a solid majority.


A good third of those polled said they'd prefer a change of government in favor of an SPD-led alliance. Only a quarter support a continuation of a conservative-led government. This deals a major blow to the center-right CDU/CSU, which has been in government for most of the time since World War II.

Most of the respondents to the Deutschlandtrend poll put the SPD and the CDU/CSU roughly on an equal footing when it comes to solving Germany's most important problems. That means a marked loss of trust for the conservatives since the last general election.

How do German elections work?

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.