Merkel, Seehofer and Facebook fall in German public opinion | News | DW | 05.04.2018
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Merkel, Seehofer and Facebook fall in German public opinion

Despite a woeful year for the chancellor, a majority of Germans continue to view Angela Merkel as good at her job. The Social Democrats, Facebook and new "Heimat" Minister Horst Seehofer are all viewed less favorably.

Even as Germans increasingly question the very political and technological foundations of their society, they remain fond of Angela Merkel, the latest DeutschlandTrend survey has found, though support for the chancellor continues to diminish. Commissioned by the ARD consortium of public service broadcasters, the monthly survey — the first since Merkel's new cabinet was sworn in in March — also found split support for the seven parties in Germany's parliament and broad distrust of the social network Facebook.

Merkel has an approval rating of 57 percent at the beginning of her fourth term as chancellor. That's down 18 points from January 2014, when her previous government was inaugurated. Even more worrisome for the chancellor is the fact that 40 percent of respondents see her as unfit for the job.

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Germany's new government off to a rocky start

The parties in Germany's grand coalition government would be re-elected with a combined 51 percent, according to a poll that asked 1,503 eligible voters whom they would choose were a hypothetical election held on Sunday. The alliance of Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian allies in the Christian Social Union (CSU) received 33 percent backing — down a point from March — and the center-left Social Democrats held steady at 18 percent.

The far-right Alternative for Germany remains the country's third-favorite party, with 14 percent support, followed closely by the centrist Greens, who are backed by 12 percent of voters. The socialist-leaning Left party has 10 percent support; toward the other end of the ideological spectrum, the laissez-faire Free Democrats remain Germans' least favorite parliamentary party, with just 9 percent backing.

Slew of negatives

Merkel was followed closely in support by her new economy minister, Peter Altmaier, who has a 55 percent favorable ranking, with 22 percent of respondents saying he is unfit for the job. The two members of Germany's ruling CDU were the only politicians to earn a mostly, if barely, approving response from the 1,003 people who participated in the DeutschlandTrend survey on Tuesday and Wednesday.   

Still reeling from overseeing the G20 debacle as Hamburg's mayor last summer, new Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, of the SPD, had 49 percent approval, with 27 percent of respondents considering him unfit. New Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a Social Democrat who had served as justice minister in Merkel's previous administration, had 43 percent approval; 27 percent of respondents said, however, that he is not up to the task. SPD Labor Minister Hubertus Heil has a 25 percent approval rating, with 18 percent of respondents saying someone else would do the job better.

CDU stalwart Ursula von der Leyen, who is again fulfilling the role of Merkel's defense minister, had just a 40 percent approval rating; 54 percent would rather not see her do the job once more. Jens Spahn — a Christian Democrat and opponent of the English language who has proposed penalizing journalists employed by public broadcasters for publishing personal opinions on Twitter — is considered a good choice for health minister by just 26 percent of respondents, with 38 percent believing exactly the opposite.

Thirty-nine percent said CSU leader Horst Seehofer could handle serving as interior and "Heimat" minister, and 51 percent are of the impression that he and the all-male team he has assembled cannot. Perhaps reflecting a lack of name recognition outside of his provincial home state of Bavaria, new Transport and Digital Infrastructure Minister Andreas Scheuer, also of the CSU, had a 26 percent approval rating; a full 23 percent of respondents said, however, that stewardship of Germany's rails, roads and information superhighway ought to have been placed in more capable hands.

On issues of international relations, respondents said they could only really trust France to act as a partner for Germany's interests. Still, that number was down a point, to 92 percent. Russia's trustworthiness also took a hit, down two points to just 26 percent, with a full 68 percent saying Vladimir Putin's Kremlin could not be relied upon to do the right thing for Germans and Germany. Trust in the United States and Turkey was up, respectively, by three points and two, but mistrust is also high, at 67 percent and 90 percent, respectively.  

Asked specifically about Russia, respondents in eastern and western Germany had very different opinions. Ninety-three percent of people in the west said Russia should make more effort toward dialogue with the European Union, US and allied nations; just 82 percent in the formerly Soviet-allied east agreed.

Facebook's formidable fall

Perhaps the only thing less popular than Germany's political establishment is the social network Facebook, the survey found. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they had great or very great fear that the social network had misused or would misuse their personal data, and only about 10 percent of respondents trust Facebook to use their information responsibly; 88 percent do not.

Sixty percent of internet users said they hadn't used Facebook before reports emerged that the network allowed operatives from Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data of 87 million members, including 310,000 people in Germany. Twelve percent said they were using the website less, and 2 percent said they had quit it all together. Twenty-seven percent said they were chugging along on Facebook as they always had.

Germans were also asked their opinions on social schisms, such as the differences between religions and economic demographics, and especially to what degree they saw a lack of cultural or financial homogeneity as an issue. A full 83 percent think economic inequality is a big or very big problem. Nonspecific differences between Islam and unspecified "other religions" are a big or very big problem for 67 percent of respondents. In fact, 62 percent of respondents say any cultural differences between people of different backgrounds at all are issues at the big-to-very big end of the worry scale; surprisingly, 76 percent said low tolerance for other ideas could also be called a problem of roughly that magnitude.      

Conducted by the pollster Infratest dimap, the DeutschlandTrend survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

mkg/bw (epd, AFP, dpa)

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