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It is an alarming poll result and one which should prompt Germany's leaders to take a very close look at the country's political process: according to a new survey, the majority of Germans have lost faith in democracy.
The German people's belief in their country's political and justice system is flagging
The survey commissioned by public broadcaster ARD showed that 49 percent of Germans polled are content with the level of democracy in their country, while the remaining 51 percent have lost faith in the justice system and trust in the government.
It is the first time that a poll has showed that the populace is unhappy with the political system of the federal republic and that the social mood is low, despite indicators that suggest the economic mood has improved.
The new poll, for which 1,000 people were interviewed, showed an 11 point drop from the previous survey in September 2005. It is the lowest figure measured in Germany in a questionnaire regarding democracy.
The social divide is widening in Germany
The division in German society was also a concern, with just 27 percent saying they considered the social situation to be fair, an eight point decrease from the September poll. A large majority of 66 percent said that the state of German society was unfair. This was an increase from the 57 percent in September 2005 who spoke of injustice.
Belief in democracy on the slippery slope
A similar survey taken by the University of Leipzig in the summer should have given some indication of how bad the ARD results would be. In the east of Germany, just 7 percent were satisfied with democracy in the country, while in the west every second person were. Leipzig psychologist Elmar Brähler stated at the time that the results showed that trust in political parties, the Bundestag and the government was hitting a new low level.
The EU also carried out a similar survey across Europe in the spring. In the EU poll, 55 percent of Germans commented that they were content with the level of democracy. Germany's rating placed in joint 13th with Greece in the poll of the 25 EU nations. The European-wide average approval figure was set at 56 percent.
The most satisfied nation in the EU was Denmark where 93 percent of interviewees were happy with the country's democracy. The least approving were inhabitants of Bulgaria and Croatia.
Almost a year ago, political scientist Claus Leggewie warned in Der Spiegel magazine that Germany was on a slippery slope. "We have a real justice problem," Leggewie said. "The growing social divide is endangering our democracy."
East and west mirroring trends of concern
People have lost faith in the political process
Professor Oscar Gabriel from the University of Stuttgart, another academic observer of the trend, has been talking about a slow but damaging erosion in faith in the government for over 15 years. While the east of Germany was genuinely optimistic about democracy in 1990, belief in the government has been on the slide there ever since and has been joined by an obvious decline in the west.
Angela Merkel's ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats were given a bad report in the ARD poll. In comparison to the former Social Democratic-Green party coalition government, only 27 percent of Germans thought the current government was better.
Merkel didn't fair much better in the personality stake either, coming in third behind Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Merkel did get a 52 percent approval rating for her job but 47 percent still said they were unhappy with her work as chancellor.