Open Europe Blog

Germany’s anti-euro AfD party has hit a rich vein of electoral form building on its success in Saxony two weeks ago (where it scored 9.7% and won its first seats in one of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments) to win 12.2% in Brandenburg and 10.6% in Thuringia; a considerable improvement on pre-election polls.

As the graphic below shows, AfD won votes across the political spectrum, In net terms, its success came at the expense of the left – Die Linke in Brandenburg and the SPD in Thuringia – although in gross terms it also won a lot of votes from the CDU and FDP.

Where did the AfD’s votes come from in Brandenburg and Thuringia?

This reflects the nature of the AfD campaign in these areas which combined an explicit pitch to Die Linke voters emphasising Ostalgie (nostalgia for East Germany), AfD’s opposition to TTIP and to the sanctions on Russia with more traditional ‘small c’ conservative messages on crime and immigration (for example, AfD wants to re-impose border checks). On the whole, the question of Europe and the euro barely featured.

While AfD’s recent successes should not be over-interpreted, inflated as they are by higher rates of disaffected voters in East Germany and low turnouts, it does nonetheless pose difficult questions for the established parties. This is particularly true for the CDU/CSU for whom, as we’ve noted, AfD is too big to ignore, yet too controversial to team up with. In the longer term however this might change if it becomes evident that the AfD is the only alternative to permanent ‘grand coalitions’ at the regional and federal level, a scenario which would arguably strengthen AfD even more.

We expect that this will be hot debate within the CDU in the coming months and years. Meanwhile, the AfD itself faces a big test; 12 months on from narrowly missed out on winning Bundestag seats the party has performed well in European and regional elections, however, with next year’s Hamburg regional elections the only significant entry in the electoral calendar over the next year and a half, can the party sustain its recent momentum? If it stalls, could we see deeper splits between the economic liberals and protectionists/social conservatives who make up the party’s uneasy internal coalition?
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