As the state of Rhineland-Palatinate gears up for this weekend's election, DW took to the streets of the state capital to see what's really influencing voters in the neck-and-neck poll. Kate Brady reports from Mainz.
In the last poll before Sunday's state election, current Rhineland-Palatinate state Premier Malu Dreyer and her Social Democrats (SPD) crept ahead of Julia Klöckner and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for the first time in months.
According to a poll published by German broadcaster ZDF, the SPD sat 1 percent ahead of the CDU with 36 percent support - an increase of 8 percent since earlier polls in January. The right-wing Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) pulled in 9 percent, the SPD's current coalition partner, the Green Party, came out with 5 percent, the Free Democrats (FDP) with 7 percent and the Left Party with 3 percent - just shy of the 5 percent required to enter parliament under Germany’s system of proportional representation.
Dreyer shuns AfD
In Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate's capital, campaigners were out in full force on Friday in a bid to garner the much-needed extra votes as the two leading parties, SPD and CDU, entered the election weekend almost neck-and-neck. For Dreyer, Friday marked her first public appearance since refusing on Thursday evening to appear in the final televised debate, alongside right-wing AfD.
Speaking in Mainz city center on Friday, the state premier of three years said she had "absolutely no reason" to speak with a group that "represents right-wing messages."
Dreyer argued that her time was better spent talking to citizens who would consider voting for the AfD.
"Speaking to people who could possibly vote for the AfD is very different from talking to the AfD's leading figures - many of whom have a right-wing past. I don't want to see such people in parliament," she said, adding that she would be "sad" if the AfD won seats in Rhineland-Palatinate's parliament come Sunday.
Going into the weekend, Dreyer said her party's goals remained the same: "that the SPD comes out the strongest party, that I remain state premier and that we can continue the red-green coalition."
Dreyer's absence from the final televised debate was met with criticism on Friday, even from her own supporters. First-time voter Michael Weber said Dreyer's decision was "a mistake."
"You need to talk to the AfD to show them where they're going wrong, but if you don't take this chance, you can't reach these people, and this isn't good," he said.
The 18-year-old told DW, however, that he would still be voting SPD in Sunday's election, as he was proud of what the current SPD-Greens coalition had achieved in Rhineland-Palatinate.
Comparing the SPD's "approachable" Dreyer with Klöckner, the law student described the CDU leader as "merchandized" and "unauthentic."
Lisa Heinrich, a literature student at the University of Mainz, told DW that she too would be voting for the SPD.
"Normally I vote Green, but I think sometimes, when a party has more chance of being elected than another, I'd vote for the other party - in this case the SPD - as I think my vote is put to better use."
The 21-year-old said Dreyer's response to the refugee crisis had influenced her vote but added that unity between refugees and Germans could be improved.
"Many Germans have fears about asylum seekers because they don't know enough about them," she told DW. "More cultural events could be organized to bring more people together."
Integration and education key for CDU
CDU-voter Morsila Schwarz said the party's education policies had played an important role in her decision.
The 59-year-old tutor told DW that she was also convinced that Klöckner would not only be the CDU's next leader, but Germany's next chancellor.
"I like how she looks and I also like what she has to say," Schwarz said.
Fellow CDU voter Marcel Seife said he would be voting for Klöckner's party due to her hard stance on the integration of refugees.
"I'm all for a binding duty to integrate," the 32-year-old told DW. "Migrants who move here must not only understand the principles of German society but also uphold them." Seife added that he thought Chancellor Angela Merkel's handling of the ongoing refugee crisis "left much to be desired."
Test for Merkel
Contrary to Seife's view, however, a recent poll by "Politbarometer" found that 62 percent of Rhineland-Palatinate was happy with Merkel's widely contested open-door refugee policy.
All pre-election polls aside, Sunday's vote in Rhineland-Palatinate - as well as in neighboring Baden-Württemberg and the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt - will be the real test for Merkel, with the three states elections being widely regarded as test of the chancellor's popularity ahead of the federal election in November 2017.