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Extremist views on the rise?

Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp
June 16, 2016

A new study suggests that Germans are increasingly leaning toward extremist views. But the study has pitfalls, DW's Kersten Knipp argues.

riot Police and extremists Copyright: Reuters/H. Hanschke
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

Presumably, there are few statistics and surveys whose methods aren't criticized or even questioned. This also applies to the biennial studies conducted by Leipzig University in cooperation with the Berlin-based USUMA market research institute.

Political scientists, for instance, say the questions posed are too general, even suggestive. Interpretation of the 2016 study also allows for a certain leeway, but even that can't disguise the fact that a percentage of Germans leans toward far-right positions.

Almost 8.5 percent of the Germans interviewed agree with the phrase that National Socialism had its good sides too. Almost 11 percent say Jews still have too much influence today, and 12 percent say Germans are superior to other peoples "by nature."

So far, so depressing. Particularly because additional data also points at extremist views: 6.7 percent of Germans feel that "under certain circumstances", a dictatorship is better than democracy. 10.6 percent wish Germany had a "Führer" who would rule Germany "with a strong hand."

Unclear formulation

At this point, we may - no, we actually must ask what these nearly seven percent of the participants had in mind when they heard the term "Führer." Were they thinking of Adolf Hitler, who is almost a historic synonym for the German word? Or do most people nowadays use the word in its general sense, simply meaning leader?

And what is "rule the country with a strong hand" supposed to mean? Do people envision a dictator? Or is it just the naive but understandable desire that sometimes things ought to move more quickly in a democracy?

Kersten Knipp
DW's Kersten Knipp

The wording that Germany needs "one single large party" to "represent the people as a whole" is also unclear. Are the 25 percent of the participants who agreed with the statement really thinking about single political parties - both from the left and the right - that played such a fatal role in German history? Or does the question insinuate thoughts of the coalition that has actually ruled Germany for years?

The study asks surprisingly imprecise questions.

The interviewees may not have been fully aware of the terminology's historical and political complexity. That's an accusation to be leveled at the study's authors, but that doesn't change the fact that Germany is grappling with far-right extremism, as documented by the NSU trial and the increase in attacks on refugee shelters.

Relationship with Muslims

Many Germans have become hardened in their relations with Muslims. "Muslims should not be allowed to migrate to Germany" is a statement more than 41 percent agreed with. Two years ago, barely 37 percent answered that question with "yes," but does the response this year really point to a "devaluation of Muslims", as the authors of the study say? Couldn't the results simply represent people's concrete worries?

The Leipzig university study was published at the same time as a survey by the Allensbach Institute on Germans' political views, concerns and hopes. According to the June survey, 32 percent of the people questioned were "deeply concerned" about the number of refugees. In January, a survey put that number at 48 percent. The authors say that since then, people's confidence has been steadily on the rise that the government is actively working on reducing the number of migrants, from 15 percent in January to 38 percent in June.

But that also means that more than 60 percent of the interviewees don't agree. "The majority still criticizes the government's refugee policies," Allensbach director Renate Köcher writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

Two studies and two results that point in the same direction.

Although the percentage points are almost identical, the authors of the Leipzig study speak of a "devaluation" of Muslims, while the Allensbach authors mention "concerns" triggered by migration.

Possibly, it depends on the political temperament of those who not only collect but also interpret the data to decide whether Germans are increasingly becoming "uninhibited" in their opinions or merely "concerned."

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Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp Political editor with a focus on the Middle East