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Young Germans are drifting to the AfD

The AfD now holds 16% of the under-25 vote. Credit: Getty

June 12, 2024 - 3:30pm

In the aftermath of the European elections last Sunday, the German establishment has been trying to come to terms with radically altered political realities. Despite advance polls predicting a notable shift to the Right, the result still shook the country. Less than a third of voters stuck with the parties of the ruling centre-left coalition, and the Right-wing Alternative fĂŒr Deutschland (AfD) became the second largest political force after the conservative Union. Young people in particular defied expectations, many turning their backs on the Greens and switching to the Right.

For the first time, 16- and 17-year-old Germans were allowed to vote in EU elections, something the Greens had strongly advocated as one of three parties in the governing coalition. Arguing that the “lowering of the voting age takes young people and their concerns seriously”, they had no doubt hoped that these concerns would align with their own.

This Green push, published in the autumn of 2022, coincided with a global protest organised by the Fridays for Future “school strike” movement, inspired by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. According to organisers’ own figures, 220,000 turned out in Germany (though the police spoke of tens of thousands). The media reported that most participants were young and demanded drastic change in energy and infrastructure policy.

Mistaking the activists as representative of their age group, the Greens believed the zeitgeist of the young was on their side. Yet it was obvious, even at the time, that the young protesters were anything but representative. Even a study by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is affiliated with the Greens, showed that two-thirds of the school pupils attending demonstrations described themselves as “upper-middle-class” or “upper-class”. Working-class youngsters struggling to find employment with adequate pay or affordable housing had neither the time nor the inclination to sit around in public squares all day. They remained invisible.

Fast forward to June 2024 and a clearer picture has emerged of how seriously young people feel the progressive government is taking their concerns. One immediately noticeable factor is that the vote among 16 to 24-year-olds is extremely splintered. No single party received even 20% of the vote, and a third of the cohort voted for an array of tiny parties with manifestos ranging from demands for a federal European state (Volt) to political satire (Die Partei, or The Party).

But there has also been a significant turn to the Right. The Christian-conservative Union gained 17% of the young vote, up by five points from 2019 although still a lot lower than its overall vote share of 30%. The AfD came second with 16%, a huge increase of 11 points from the last European election and the same as the overall vote. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats only received 9%, while the Greens saw the sharpest fall from 34 to 11%.

One study that had predicted an increase in AfD voting among the young showed that their main worries were inflation, the wars in Europe and the Middle East, and expensive housing. Climate change featured on the list of concerns, but ranked around the middle between social division and old-age poverty. There was also a notable uptick in concerns around an increased number of refugees coming to Germany. In previous years, only a quarter of 14 to 29-year-olds said they worried about this. In 2024 the figure had risen to 41%.

It was always wrong for the centre-left to take the young for granted and assume that they were solely concerned with climate change and social justice. The economic and social pressures on young people are real and sharply felt, as are their fears for their own future and that of their country. If the government is as serious about caring for the concerns of young people as it claimed when it extended their vote, now is the time to prove it.


Katja Hoyer is a German-British historian and writer. She is the author, most recently, of Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990.

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Arthur G
Arthur G
1 month ago

The young should be the most concerned about migration. They’re the ones who will potentially be forced to live in an Islamicized (if not outright Islamic) state.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

Who wouldya thunk -young people can’t afford to support luxury beliefs like net zero and open borders.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Figuratively and literally!

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago

Progressives have a strange habit to shoot themselves in the foot

David L
David L
1 month ago
Reply to  El Uro

Shooting themselves in the head, would be favourite.

David McKee
David McKee
1 month ago

German youth today – British youth by 2030. Their votes are there for the taking, if the Conservatives can get their act together.

Jake Raven
Jake Raven
1 month ago

I wonder if this will give Starmer pause for thought. He’ll introduce votes for 16-year-olds on the assumption they will be socialist, but that’s not guaranteed.
Blair assumed a devolved Scotland would be forever Labour, but that didn’t turn out as planned. Starmer could make the same mistake with young voters.
Net zero and mass immigration will disproportionately impact younger people, and Labour are zealots on both these issues.

David Morley
David Morley
1 month ago
Reply to  Jake Raven

We maybe need to distinguish between “socialist” and a whole load of identity, environmental and other issues that have clustered around the modern left. They are not essentially linked.

What Starmer needs to do is be sensitive to the specific issues that concern people, rather than assuming the whole bundle naturally goes together. I suspect he is trying to do that.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago

Young people often want to ‘stick it to The Man’ and The Man now seems to promote open borders and Net Zero – so votes against the Greens (now part of The Man) and votes for the disruptors AfD seem likely.
I wonder if those parties promoting a younger voting age realise what the consequences are likely to be?

David Morley
David Morley
1 month ago
Reply to  AC Harper

May be true. If teacher is a Tory, who wants to be a Tory – if she’s a green, open borders, feminist 
..

Or may just be that they have other concerns that really matter to them more.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  David Morley

Definitely the former. When I was teaching high school, most students were tired of being proselytized to by female teachers. During our most recent Day of Inclusion, one fifteen year-old boy muttered to me, “Why do we always have to give so much attention to those people?”
It’s swings and roundabouts.

J B
J B
1 month ago

I’m no fan of the AfD but this is a serious article where they are not referred to as far-right or hard-right.

Chipoko
Chipoko
1 month ago
Reply to  J B

Well said!

David Morley
David Morley
1 month ago

Maybe they’ll start having kids!

Helen E
Helen E
1 month ago
Reply to  David Morley

No. They can’t afford any.

Victor James
Victor James
1 month ago

”
that they were solely concerned with climate change and social justice”
But they do want social justice, which is why they vote for the AfD. Leftist ‘social justice’ is leftist. Social justice is not defined by the far left, same with climate change.
Stop accepting the lefts terms, on any issue.

Brian Kneebone
Brian Kneebone
1 month ago

In the 70’s the Greens were against population growth. Now the are for population growth if by way of uncontrolled immigration. Perhaps the native (white) population reducing their growth was the qualifier. Job done. I didn’t know that the environment is so sensitive to ethnic background!

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
1 month ago

The Greens single-handedly have destroyed the German economy. No one should vote for them.

karlheinz r
karlheinz r
1 month ago

The German so called „center-left“ might have been center-left ten years ago. Today they are compared to that hard-left.
Nice results but it won‘t change anything. More anti conservative hate (Nazis), even less free speech, some change in the rhetoric towards immigration but no action. More totalitarian control.
Wish we still had a constitution.

General Store
General Store
1 month ago
Reply to  karlheinz r

Have children, go back to church, prep ….and be patient. It’s 150AD again. The empire will fall

General Store
General Store
1 month ago

Bring it on. Our global elite in all these countries are ushering an future of eugenics, designer babies, surrogacy on demand, sexual debauchery, trafficking on the back of the destruction of ordinary working and middle class communities, high tech. digital regulation and the suppression of dissent, trans-humanism…the deliberate destruction of small family business, small family farms, the total integration of all industrial and logistical systems and the elimination of any capacity for an authentic place/community bound life…. We have crossed many rubicons. …. Any possible reaction, counter-movement , rebirth …will involve a baptism of fire. So bring it on.

William Brand
William Brand
1 month ago

The greens blew it when they added the ideas of the elite WOKE groups to their platform. What do anti-Israel, gay lib etc. have to do with excess CO2 in the air. Many right wing people worry about climate change.

Dr E C
Dr E C
1 month ago
Reply to  William Brand

Yes! Thank you!

Kat L
Kat L
1 month ago
Reply to  William Brand

Yes! I don’t know why the right let’s them dominate the issue.