The Feed

UnHerd's blog
Credit: Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/PA Images

Reactions to AfD breakthrough in Germany

Reactions to exit poll predictions of a 13% showing for the anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-EU Alternative für Deutschland in today’s German elections. (Times below in UK time.)

Peter Franklin, Editor of our UnPacked page, 2050:

“Now we know the biggest difference between Angela Merkel and Theresa May – about 10% of the electorate. If a vote share in the low forties was a humiliation for the British PM then what would you call a share in the low thirties for the German Chancellor?

Exactly what she deserves, might be one answer. Last week I challenged the idea that Germany is the ‘responsible adult’ of European politics. In fact, Mrs Merkel has presided over a series of disastrous policies that have destabilised Germany’s neighbours – and are now destabilising German politics.

The big winner of the election was the radical right. Four years ago, the AfD was a mildly eurosceptic party whose standpoint could best be compared to that of David Cameron’s British Conservatives. Then came a series of splits and ructions that saw the party move far to the right. They now have links to the same Euro-grouping as the French National Front. This is the AfD that just broke through into the Bundestag and is now the second largest party in the old East Germany. That’s how badly German politics is screwed-up right now.

“Mrs Merkel has presided over a series of disastrous policies that have destabilised Germany’s neighbours – and are now destabilising German politics” – Peter Franklin

Merkel returns for a fourth term as Chancellor, but may well have to form a government with the Free Democrats and the Greens. This is known as a ‘Jamaica’ coalition because of the correspondence between the Jamaican flag and the party colours of the Christian Democrats (black), the FDP (yellow) and the Greens (er, green). The inclusion of the latter will be especially challenging. Not least because they may insist on some accountability for ‘dieselgate’ – arguably the worst corporate scandal of recent years (and yet another cloud over Merkel’s Germany).”

Henry Olsen, Editor of UnHerd’s ‘Flyover Country’ section, 1835:

Caption: Krieg Barrie

“The German exit poll results do not surprise me at all. The polls have been showing a trend away from Merkel’s CDU/CSU and toward the AfD all month. I said yesterday that AfD could hit 14% and up to 20% in one or two East German states. I stand by that today. It’s not hard to figure out why this happened. As I wrote recently, world politics is increasingly less about Left v Right and more about Ins v Outs. If you benefit from modern cultural norms and the globalised economy, you’re an In. If not, you’re an Out. Since those with fewer skills and lower formal education tend to be more culturally traditional and economically stressed, they are the prime voter moving toward so-called populist parties.

AfD’s performance fits this model precisely. The exit polls show that AfD did best among workers, men, and those with the lowest levels of education. The regional tilt to the East merely reflects that: Eastern states remain much poorer on average than any Western counterpart. AfD’s showing is proof that Outs matter even in stable, prosperous Germany. Both major In parties showed strong vote declines, but both continued to do well among the highly educated. When the final returns are available, they will show CDU/CSU doing comparatively best in educated, prosperous areas.  This is classic “In” behaviour.

The FDP’s near doubling of their vote share is indicative of another trend I discussed in my piece, the reformist In. FDP’s voters are the highest educated of any if the party vote bases and it is a founding party of the modern German Republic. While these tendencies make them Ins, their classical liberal economics place them outside the German consensus, making them a bit of an Out. FDP voters are like those who backed French President Emmanuel Macron in the first round, Ins who want reform.

My piece mentions three ways Ins can deal with Outs: Ignore, Avoid, or Adapt (see slide seven). Merkel has spent years ignoring the political demands for change from economic and cultural Outs. That policy has failed. Her inclination will be to reform the grand coalition with the SPD to allow her to avoid the twin challenges the AfD and FDP pose. Why a party that has sunk to its lowest level since the founding of the Bundesrepublik should agree to that escapes me. That leaves one option: adapt. Merkel might be unable to stomach the moves towards economic liberalism and cultural conservatism the election results show Germans want. But if she can’t handle it, the CDU-CSU has only one choice: find someone who can.”

If exit polling and early projections are correct the two main German parties have lost up to 14% of Germany’s voters since 2013’s national election. (Photo by Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)

Andrew Hawkins, Chairman of ComRes, 1815:

“It is hard to see the electoral success of the first far-right German nationalist party as anything other than a disaster for the political establishment.  Germany is a nation so sensitive about its Nazi past that a stiff-armed salute can still land you three years in jail.

Earlier today, British Labour MP Clive Lewis claimed that Brexit voters who opposed freedom of movement were driven by racism. To be fair, he was immediately slapped down by one of his Labour colleagues, but the German result is doubtless driven in large part by its politicians espousing views which are similar to those of Lewis.  A desire to maintain – or, in Germany’s case, restore controls over national borders, is unlikely to fizzle out, and to refuse to act on electoral concerns risks provoking unwelcome electoral results.

The AfD is a monster created by the liberal elites who have closed their ears to the German electorate’s concerns.  In contrast, the Brexit vote gave vent to similar concerns in the UK before the far-right could get any kind of electoral hold. Nigel Farage might actually be given some credit for relieving the electoral pressure in Britain before things turned ugly.”

Projections at 1800 (UK time). Other parties at 4.8%.

Professor Michael Burleigh, 1750:

“Very sad to see such excitement among some Brits as a nativist anti Semitic and Putin admiring far right party comes third in Germany. Be careful for what you wish for Unherdians. Still, their leadership is as fractious as that of the FN and UKIP, and the systemic parties will close ranks against 89 in a Bundestag of 640. Boring has its merits in politics, and Germany has a history with temptation. Check out what Alice Weidel, Alexander Gauland and Bjorn Hoecke say in German before you get too carried away.”

Nigel Cameron, 1745:

“So from a standing start just 4 years ago Germany’s “far-right” AfD has pushed way above the 5% threshold for representation in the Bundestag to a projected 13%. Meanwhile, according to exit polls, while the Chancellor is assured of victory, her main socialist opponents are seriously weakened.  We’re seeing yet another example of the new politics in which fresh issues reshape voting patterns – in Germany, overwhelmingly the major refugee immigration that Chancellor Merkel has permitted. And because the issues emerge in fresh ways it’s becoming harder to predict voting patterns, as we saw with Brexit and Trump.

Yet the symbolism of the far-right in Germany’s Bundestag outstrips every other electoral shock, reminding us forcibly of the corruption of the culture and politics of continental Europe’s greatest power that led to the cataclysm of WW2. It will be truly fascinating to see how the established parties of right and left respond to this seismic shift. Not just in the matter of immigration but across the policy front, and what soul-searching follows as Germany’s past re-emerges.”