On Sunday 2 July, Hannes Loth of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) became Germany’s first mayor from a far-right party, defeating independent candidate Nils Naumann in the small town of Raguhn-Jessnitz in Saxony-Anhalt. This comes a week after AfD’s Robert Sesselmann won the second round of councilorship in Thuringia’s Schönberg district.
Although both districts are relatively small, the results are considered significant because they confirm a trend in national polls: the far-right party now has the approval of 20 percent of German voters, the same as President Olaf Scholes’s Social Democrats.
“The coalition government’s (environmental) policy makes people anxious,” says Ursula Munch, director of the Tutzing Political Training Academy in Bavaria. A study from the University of Leipzig suggests a simple, if very confusing, explanation: Many German voters, especially in the eastern part of the country, hold racist views.
The results of another poll published on June 29 were similarly alarming, showing that the AfD’s populist sentiment is gaining more support among middle-class Germans. According to a survey conducted by the Sinus Institute for Social Research, the number of middle-class voters has risen from 43 percent two years ago to 56 percent today.
“What we see at the moment is that the really well-educated younger and modern middle classes are also showing affinity with the AfD,” Silke Borstedt, director of the Sinus Institute, told DW. “We can’t say yet whether it’s a conscious decision because the other parties didn’t come up with the right plan.”
Conservatives on a tightrope
Despite criticism of Social Democrat Olaf Scholz’s government, the party facing the biggest dilemma is the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which despite leading in the polls is struggling to capitalize on mistakes. Coalition Government.
CDU leader Friedrich Merz has failed to promise to halve the AfD’s electoral base in 2019, while his rhetoric is staunchly anti-left rather than anti-right. He declared earlier this week that the Greens are the CDU’s “main enemy”, despite the AfD’s recent wins in six of Germany’s 16 regional governments, where the CDU is in coalition with the Greens.
“I think it’s important that traditional parties try to compete politically with far-right parties,” he told DW. “They must not go away: that is a far-right party and we want nothing to do with them.”
They cringe at blatant racism
Many German voters are alarmed not only by the AfD’s often overt racism, but also by the fact that it is under surveillance as a potential threat to constitutional order.
Germany’s national intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), which monitors extremists, has classified parts of the AfD as right-wing extremists and the entire AfD as a “suspicious case”.
But according to Münch, many Germans — especially in East Germany — are critical of the intelligence agency. At a recent press conference, BfV chairman Thomas Haltenwang suggested that Germans should think twice before voting for the AfD.
Finally, Silke Borstedt from Sinus believes that, despite the current statistics, the parties in the German mainstream should not be too cautious.
“There is a far-right base, a segment of the electorate that is strongly influenced by the current mood,” he said. And he was somewhat optimistic that the mood might change before the next general election in 2025.
“Introvert. Thinker. Problem solver. Evil beer specialist. Prone to fits of apathy. Social media expert. Award-winning food fanatic.”