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The real story behind the AfD’s rise

Demonstrators protest against the rising cost of living in a demonstration organised by the AfD. Credit: Getty

July 3, 2023 - 1:00pm

It has been quite the week for Alternative for Germany (AfD). Hot on the heels of winning a run-off election for the post of district administrator in the eastern town of Sonneberg, the party now also boasts its first elected mayor in the small town of Raguhn-Jeßnitz in Saxony-Anhalt. As of yesterday, 42-year-old Hannes Loth can claim to have broken yet another ceiling for Germany’s most Right-wing political movement. Although these are small districts in parts of what used to constitute East Germany, it demonstrates that the recent AfD polling gains are beginning to have real political consequences. 

In the lands of the former German Democratic Republic (excluding Berlin) the AfD is now the most popular party, polling at 32% compared to the second-placed CDU’s 23%. In the state of Thuringia, the AfD is leading in every poll for the state election in 2024, raising the real possibility of the party gaining its first state governor. 

While both the media and the political establishment have a hard time explaining recent successes, the electorate itself seems less mystified. Stefan Aust, a former editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel — Germany’s most influential weekly newspaper — argues that the rise of the AfD can be best explained by the Leftward shift of the CDU’s Christian conservatives under Angela Merkel. As that party has become conservative in name only, Alternative fĂŒr Deutschland is increasingly seen as a literal alternative for voters from the political centre to the far-Right. The current coalition government and chancellor Olaf Scholz see the problem in a failed communication strategy, and dismiss the AfD as a “populist bad-mood party”. 

Unfortunately for Scholz and his coalition partners, most Germans are currently in a bad mood as far as politics is concerned. The AfD’s polling figures are obviously some way from a majority, but what should worry the established parties is the 60% of the population who believe that none of the current parties can solve the country’s problems. That disaffected majority do not necessarily have faith in the AfD either, but the Right-wing party can offer something the others cannot: a voice of protest. Germans are increasingly being faced with a choice between turning their back on the political system altogether or voting for the party the establishment has painted as a bogeyman — a dismissal which only makes the AfD seem more attractive.

Back in the 2002 German federal elections, the conservatives and social democrats garnered 77% of the overall vote; today they would barely get 46%, a decline of over 30% for the so-called “people’s parties”. This is the real story behind the rise of the AfD. It has not benefited from newfound popularity so much as the complete implosion of its rivals’ traditional support base.

Support levels of 20% may not win the party a majority, but this translates into real political power if the most popular party only gets 26%. German policymakers are deluding themselves when they seek comfort in the fact that 80% of the population is not voting for the AfD, since — as things stand — it would take a shift of a few percentage points for it to be the dominant party in the German Bundestag.

The rise of the AfD might come to an end at some point, but the decline of the traditional parties is only just beginning.

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

Populism isn’t going away. If traditional political parties continue to advocate economic and energy policies that make people poorer, and social and education policies that divide people and exclude the majority, traditional parties will get hammered at the ballot box.

Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Is anyone surprised by this?
The centrists admit their policies have led to this “going to hell in a handcart” and the only response is for them to keep repeating the same policies because it’s comfortable in their smug ivory castles with their careerists comfortable arrangements.
Things haven’t worked by any stretch of the imagination and the electorate has had enough and want some change. And that’s the feeling across France, Germany, Holland, Italy etc.
You don’t need to look at the polls, you just need to look out the window.
All is dismissed as populist (like describing a bad smell) and that anything but the EU derived party line is indefensible but then look at Meloni in Italy doing something positive and sensible policy and meeting the needs of her electorate (imagine that!). Italy’s most popular politician in a generation.
I bet it stings to see someone doing something different and being a success.
The failed policies of Merkel and her cronies let directly to war in Europe, inflation, financial crisis and food shortages. She got a standing ovation in the EU on retirement just before the Ukraine debacle, now she’s a pariah that no one wants to be linked to.
Bring on change, anything will do but let’s get away from head in the sand centrist’s.
If you’re a conservative you’re a covert brown shirt nutter
If your a left winger you’re Stalin personified.
Lets try something because the centrists made this mess and they’re unlikely to get us out of it, a fan of AfD I’m not but someone has got to shake things up to get some change. Is anyone surprised still?

Last edited 10 months ago by Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Is anyone surprised by this?
The centrists admit their policies have led to this “going to hell in a handcart” and the only response is for them to keep repeating the same policies because it’s comfortable in their smug ivory castles with their careerists comfortable arrangements.
Things haven’t worked by any stretch of the imagination and the electorate has had enough and want some change. And that’s the feeling across France, Germany, Holland, Italy etc.
You don’t need to look at the polls, you just need to look out the window.
All is dismissed as populist (like describing a bad smell) and that anything but the EU derived party line is indefensible but then look at Meloni in Italy doing something positive and sensible policy and meeting the needs of her electorate (imagine that!). Italy’s most popular politician in a generation.
I bet it stings to see someone doing something different and being a success.
The failed policies of Merkel and her cronies let directly to war in Europe, inflation, financial crisis and food shortages. She got a standing ovation in the EU on retirement just before the Ukraine debacle, now she’s a pariah that no one wants to be linked to.
Bring on change, anything will do but let’s get away from head in the sand centrist’s.
If you’re a conservative you’re a covert brown shirt nutter
If your a left winger you’re Stalin personified.
Lets try something because the centrists made this mess and they’re unlikely to get us out of it, a fan of AfD I’m not but someone has got to shake things up to get some change. Is anyone surprised still?

Last edited 10 months ago by Paul Curtin
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

Populism isn’t going away. If traditional political parties continue to advocate economic and energy policies that make people poorer, and social and education policies that divide people and exclude the majority, traditional parties will get hammered at the ballot box.

Peter D
Peter D
10 months ago

I can’t help but see these gains in the small political arena as a good thing for all involved. I had a very brief look at the policies on the AfD website and they don’t seem as far right as the media portrays them to be. Of course, I still need to delve deeper and have a proper look.
However, they have never held office and so the responsibilities may well be above their abilities. If so, they will be found out before too much damage is done. In saying this, the Ampel is doing a great deal of damage and so the bar is set very low indeed. The other thing is that they might just surprise us and be a lot better than the media portrays them to be.
As to populism, we live in a democracy and the will of the people is paramount. Our technocrat superiors think that they know best and it has failed dramatically, so why should we continue do thing same thing and expecting a different result.

Peter D
Peter D
10 months ago

I can’t help but see these gains in the small political arena as a good thing for all involved. I had a very brief look at the policies on the AfD website and they don’t seem as far right as the media portrays them to be. Of course, I still need to delve deeper and have a proper look.
However, they have never held office and so the responsibilities may well be above their abilities. If so, they will be found out before too much damage is done. In saying this, the Ampel is doing a great deal of damage and so the bar is set very low indeed. The other thing is that they might just surprise us and be a lot better than the media portrays them to be.
As to populism, we live in a democracy and the will of the people is paramount. Our technocrat superiors think that they know best and it has failed dramatically, so why should we continue do thing same thing and expecting a different result.

John Hicks
John Hicks
10 months ago

The German voter must also have a sense of impotence when over 60% of their representatives have never been elected; they are drawn from party lists, many unknown, and all accountable to their party rather than to the electorate.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  John Hicks

Always a problem for any form of PR

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  John Hicks

Always a problem for any form of PR

John Hicks
John Hicks
10 months ago

The German voter must also have a sense of impotence when over 60% of their representatives have never been elected; they are drawn from party lists, many unknown, and all accountable to their party rather than to the electorate.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

Achtung for der woken ?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

Achtung for der woken ?

TheElephant InTheRoom
TheElephant InTheRoom
10 months ago

Scholtz and the Greens are destroying Germany. The situation with Russian and Ukraine and Germany’s current position only exacerbates this destruction.

TheElephant InTheRoom
TheElephant InTheRoom
10 months ago

Scholtz and the Greens are destroying Germany. The situation with Russian and Ukraine and Germany’s current position only exacerbates this destruction.

0 0
0 0
10 months ago

We must appreciate that Populism is a polite word to describe Mob Rule.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  0 0

What are we supposed to do, vote for the least popular parties? Or when a party wins an election does that party then become the mob? Or is it just a label used by the elite to denigrate anyone who gets uppity?

Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
10 months ago

Yes to the last point, definitely

Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
10 months ago

Yes to the last point, definitely

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
10 months ago
Reply to  0 0

It is a rude word used by elites to describe democracy. As was once the word ‘democracy’ itself.

TheElephant InTheRoom
TheElephant InTheRoom
10 months ago
Reply to  0 0

Populism is people-ism, not elitism. The, er, actual tax paying, people are sick of unelected, unaccountable, irresponsible, unintelligent, short-sighted, compromised morons ensconced in nearly every institution.
A shocking worldwide phenomenon!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  0 0

What are we supposed to do, vote for the least popular parties? Or when a party wins an election does that party then become the mob? Or is it just a label used by the elite to denigrate anyone who gets uppity?

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
10 months ago
Reply to  0 0

It is a rude word used by elites to describe democracy. As was once the word ‘democracy’ itself.

TheElephant InTheRoom
TheElephant InTheRoom
10 months ago
Reply to  0 0

Populism is people-ism, not elitism. The, er, actual tax paying, people are sick of unelected, unaccountable, irresponsible, unintelligent, short-sighted, compromised morons ensconced in nearly every institution.
A shocking worldwide phenomenon!

0 0
0 0
10 months ago

We must appreciate that Populism is a polite word to describe Mob Rule.