For the first time in more than a decade, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) is leading polls on voter intentions against Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), just as the general election is due to take place in September. This unprecedented situation owes much to the center-right candidate, Armin Laschet, who has committed several blunders.
Angela Merkel is leaving, but her CDU will stay: this had been the most likely scenario for the German general elections, to be held on September 26. But there has been a small political revolution, just a month before the vote. For the first time in 15 years, the center-left SPD surpassed the conservative CDU in the center. With just 10 days left to vote, the Social Democrats are comfortably in the lead with 25 percent of expected voters, while Merkel’s CDU has just 21 percent.
“This is surprising because the SPD had stagnated around or below 20 percent in voting intentions nationwide for about 10 years,” Thomas Poguntke, a political scientist at the University of Düsseldorf, told FRANCE 24.
Laschet: laughing and lazy
At the same time, the CDU has dropped nearly 10 points in voter intentions since mid-July. The polls are certainly not a gospel, “but in this case, they confirm a trend observed over several weeks in the campaign, namely the difficulties of the Conservative candidate,” Klaus Schubert, political scientist at the Institute for Political Research at the University of Münster, told FRANCE 24.
Armin Laschet, the right-wing CDU candidate who wants to replace Merkel as chancellor, does not appear to be doing well. In particular, he made a number of mistakes during the catastrophic floods in Germany in mid-July. One image in particular did not sit well with Germans: that of a Laschet laughing behind Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who, in a serious tone, was giving a speech about the destruction caused by heavy rains.
And that’s not all. He also appears “to be particularly nonspecific in his positions and often remains very vague,” Schubert said. In the first of three televised debates scheduled with the other two main candidates, Olaf Scholz for the SPD and Annalena Baerbock for the Greens, he was the only one who did not say where he would go on his first official trip as chancellor. “That’s a classic, easy question,” said Schubert.
He put on a fiery performance in the second debate, but again failed to deliver a knockout blow.
Laschet is not solely responsible for your problems; current events have not helped him. The floods, the pandemic and the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan are issues that allow someone who already has political responsibilities to shine. And that’s what Scholz did. “As finance minister, he was able to appear as the savior by promising, for example, to free up the necessary funds for flood victims or spare no expense to address the health crisis,” Schubert said.
Where is Angela Merkel?
The CDU also seems reluctant to support Laschet and seems “not to know how to make this candidate represent the party’s ideas,” Wolfgang Schroeder, a political scientist at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (Berlin Center for Scientific Research) told FRANCE 24.
Laschet himself said: “You cannot run a campaign alone.”
Even Merkel was silent in her support for her party’s candidate until the end of the campaign. “The lack of participation of the chancellor, who could have used a bit of her popularity to help Laschet, remains for me one of the great mysteries of this campaign,” Stefan Marschall, a political scientist at the University of Düsseldorf, told FRANCE 24. . .
Add to that the voices on the right that are putting obstacles in your way. Markus Söder, the head of the center-right Christian Social Union in Bavaria, “never misses an opportunity to emphasize that he would have done better than Laschet,” Poguntke said. The political scientist sees his failure to bring the right with him as one of the main weaknesses of the CDU candidate’s campaign: “He has absolutely failed to surround himself with his own team, which means that everyone on the right seems to be playing for themselves “.
In contrast to the disunity of the CDU, the SPD “has managed to appear to be a party close to its candidate, who is also one of the main figures in the current government,” Marschall said.
An apocalyptic image
Laschet hoped to be the face of continuity after Merkel, but in the end “Scholz seems to be the natural successor to the outgoing chancellor,” Schroeder said. “He has the same political pragmatism, he knows how to be very flexible and he has real experience on the international scene.”
Laschet has very little time left to turn things around if he wants to avoid a defeat for the CDU in the next election. The most likely scenario is “that conservatives will play the doomsday card and paint a bleak future if the left comes to power,” Schroeder said.
It’s hard to say if that kind of strategy would work. On the one hand, such an approach could be effective with the Germans because “they are politically quite conservative and they don’t like experiments in government,” Marschall said.
On the other hand, the “apocalyptic” argument has the same chance of failing because, for many, Scholz is not scary, since he “symbolizes continuity more than any candidate, since he is already in government,” Schubert said.
In the event that Laschet does not recover, there is a growing discussion in Germany of a new scenario at the federal level: the possibility of a tripartite government. But would it be with or without the CDU?
This article has been adapted from the French original.