6th Jul 2022


Why did Germans vote for Merkel, again?

  • German elections - all about personalities in the end (Photo: Dennis Skley)

One of the myths of German politics is that parties and their political platforms matter more than personalities.

The electoral system is mixed - a direct vote for a local MP and a vote for the preferred party. But neither chancellor nor president are elected directly. It is all party politics.

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If anything, that myth was debunked on Sunday. The Christian-Democratic Union and its sister party from Bavaria, the Christian-Social Union, had one word as their political platform: Merkel.

The campaign videos, posters, rallies were all centred around Angela Merkel and her "safe pair of hands."

It worked. Surprisingly well.

The CDU/CSU got very close to a super-majority in the Bundestag, its best score in 23 years. And Merkel became the only leader of a euro-country to be reelected since the crisis broke out in 2010.

"The personality factor played a very big role. CDU won because of the high support for Merkel, while the Social Democrats lost because of Peer Steinbrueck," Peter Matuschek, head of Forsa, one of the main pollsters in Germany, told international media in Berlin on Monday (23 September).

Richard Hilmer from Infratest Dimap, another big pollster, agreed that Merkel's personality was the main reason why CDU got so many votes.

"CDU scores well only when Merkel is on top. We saw in regional elections where she was not the main candidate that they lost quite a few," Hilmer said.

But why do Germans continue to like her so much, after eight years in power?

"It is for the first time in a long time that a big majority of people thinks Germany is doing well. And Merkel is capable of communicating that sense of security, of protection," Hilmer explained.

The main reason why voters trust Merkel - dubbed Mutti (Mum) - is precisely what she has been criticised for by the opposition and by other countries in the EU: her cautious, slow-moving way of dealing with other countries in the eurozone crisis.

"The vote for CDU and Merkel is a vote in favour of this pragmatic, reluctant management style. These elections were all about securing Germany's prosperity - partly also about social equality. And the SPD failed to respond in a credible way to either of them," Hilmer said.

Another reason for CDU's success is the demise of their coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats, who failed to enter the parliament for the first time since their creation, in 1946.

After a regional election flop in Bavaria just a week before general elections, the FDP changed tactics and sought to gain both votes, decoupling itself from the Merkel bandwagon. But that strategy didn't succeed. As many as two million voters migrated from FDP to CDU, according to the pollsters.

Are Germans becoming euro-sceptic?

One of the big surprises of the Sunday elections was the success of a brand-new party, Alternative fuer Deutschland, which is campaigning for the break-up of the eurozone and putting an end to all the euro-bailouts.

Even though AfD missed by 0.3 percent the five-percent threshold to enter the Bundestag, AfD scored more than all pollsters had predicted.

"We always said AfD is an obscure figure. They started out as an anti-euro party, but have moved into the right-wing spectrum. Their supporters are made out of a strong percentage of higer-income self-employed, predominantly male. We knew they will not all admit they vote for the AfD," Forsa's Peter Matuschek said.

However, a difference has to be made between AfD members and those who voted for them on Sunday.

"AfD got votes from all directions, not necessarily just the right spectrum. Since they were seen as the most successful among the small parties, the AfD vacuumed a lot of protest votes," the head of Infratest Dimap said.

His institute made a breakdown of where the AfD got votes from, showing that they received the most votes from the Liberals (330,000) followed by the CDU and Greens equally at 230,000. Leftist voters also went for the AfD: Some 150,000 Social Democratic voters and 70,000 from the left-wing Linke party.

How long the AfD success will carry on remains to be seen, especially in regional elections where their main topic - the break-up of the Eurozone - is seen as not having much day-to-day relevance.

But in the 2014 EU elections, AfD is slated to enter the European Parliament, pollsters predict, as the threshold is only at three percent, not the five needed for the Bundestag.

"To some extent it's the AfD's luck that EU elections are next and their main topic is a euro-related one. They have bigger chances than in the German elections also because there is no consequence in the European Parliament, no government needs to be formed where they could upset the numbers," Hilmer said.

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