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Germans split over weapons for Ukraine

May 2, 2022

The German public is divided on the issue of military support for Ukraine. Many fear the delivery of tanks and training of Ukrainian soldiers in Germany may drag the country into the war.

A Gepard tank moves across a field
Germany is set to deliver Gepard tanks to Ukraine — and train the country's soldiers how to use themImage: Sven Simon/IMAGO

After mounting pressure from the German public and its allies, the German government announced last week that it would send tanks to Ukraine. A day later, on April 28, the ruling coalition of center-left Social Democrats, Greens and neoliberal Free Democrats joined forces with the main opposition, the center-right Christian Democrats, to approve the delivery by a large majority in the federal parliament, the Bundestag.

However, the latest opinion polls show a rift in the German electorate as to whether or not to support that move.

The polling institute infratest dimap surveyed over 1,300 eligible voters from April 25 to 27 and registered an even split: 45% said they were in favor of sending heavy weapons to Ukraine — a decline of 10 percentage points from the month before. Despite the apparent ebbing support for sending Ukraine heavy weapons, such as tanks, 52% of those queried said they want more decisive and harder action against Russia. The results of the poll were published on the day of the Bundestag vote.

Germany to send weapons to Ukraine

A day later pollster Forschungsgruppe Wahlen noted a rise in support for weapons exports, publishing its poll of 1,170 eligible voters surveyed between April 26 and 28 on public broadcaster ZDF. It found 56% of respondents in favor of heavy weapons exports, with 39% opposed. Meanwhile, 59% of respondents say they believe that the supply of such weapons, now also from Germany, increases the danger of a Russian attack on Western states.

An open letter addressed to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, initially signed by 28 German cultural figures and published on April 29 on the website of feminist magazine Emma, is attracting public support and fueling discussion in the country. Signatories make an urgent appeal to the chancellor not to supply more heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Unlike those who have accused Scholz of being too indecisive on the issue, the signatories of the letter praise him for having "so far considered the risks so carefully" and for having done everything possible to prevent the war in Ukraine from escalating into a third world war.

An infographic on how Germans think Olaf Scholz is doing as chancellor

Scholz losing support

Chancellor Scholz's approval ratings have suffered as a result of what is seen as his dithering. Just one-third of those polled by infratest dimap said they found his Ukraine policy convincing; almost half did not think he could see the country through the crisis. That marks a significant drop in confidence since last year's election, when a strong majority of voters expressed faith in Scholz's leadership.

An infographic showing German attitudes on a Russian oil embargo

Energy dependence

Another pressing topic is energy. Most respondents in the infratest poll published by ARD public broadcaster, 54%, said they wanted a gradual end to Russian gas and oil imports. Just 22% were in favor of an immediate stop, which was only slightly more than the 19% who expressed interest in maintaining the status quo with Germany's reliance on Russian energy.

These results largely reflect the position of the government, which has warned of the economic consequences of an energy boycott but has said it's working toward finding alternatives to Russia as quickly as possible. That would allow Germany to wean itself off oil over the next several months, and gas within two years.

An infographic showing how Germans would vote in an election held today

At the party level, infratest's April edition of its monthly Deutschlandtrend poll shows few changes. Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD) trail the conservative opposition, the Union (CDU/CSU), by two percentage points. If an election were to take place on Sunday, the CDU/CSU would come out on top with 26% of the vote to the SPD's 24%.

The SPD's government allies, the Greens and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), remain about where they were with 18% and 9%, respectively, in third and fourth places, compared to earlier polling. Together, they would have 51% of the vote, allowing them to continue governing.

This article was originally written in German

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

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