German far right surges in polls, alarming mainstream parties

Prominent figures in Germany’s political mainstream are raising the alarm after a new poll showed support for the country’s leading far-right party at a record high.

The latest release from the DeutschlandTrend survey, which is conducted monthly by infratest dimap for public broadcaster ARD, clocks voter support for Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) at 18%, putting it on a par with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats.

The poll of 1,302 voters represents a major boost for AfD since the 2021 election, in which AfD received 10.3% to the Social Democrats’ 25.7%. The margin of error was up to 3 percentage points.

Norbert Roettgen, a senior lawmaker for the main opposition Christian Democrats, described the poll as “a disaster” and “an alarm signal for all parties in the centre”.

Roettgen, whose party came in at 29% in the same survey, said his own center-right party should ask itself why it hasn’t profited as much from voters’ disillusionment with the current government, which replaced a coalition led by Angela Merkel.

Another Christian Democrat, Serap Guler, said AfD’s growing support should alarm all democratic parties. “We bear responsibility for changing this again quickly,” she said late Thursday.

Sawsan Chebli, a member of the Social Democrats, tweeted after the polls were published: “The AfD is at 18 percent. People, wake the hell up!”

Dark days

AfD and its affiliates have come under scrutiny from the country’s domestic intelligence agency, BfV, because of ties to extremists.

The head of the agency warned recently of “astonishing parallels” between the present and the 1920s and 1930s, which saw a rise in political extremism and authoritarianism that culminated in the Nazi dictatorship.

This does not mean the party’s rising support is rock solid. About two-thirds of those who supported AfD in the latest poll said they did so out of frustration at mainstream parties, rather than because they were convinced by the far right’s policies.

Nonetheless, the AfD is thought to stand a good chance of winning the largest share of the vote in three state elections in eastern Germany next year. That would put mainstream parties in the awkward position of having to form a broad coalition against the strongest party.

AfD last hit 18% in the DeutschlandTrend survey in September 2018 during a particularly stressful time for then-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

Scholz’s three-party coalition with the Greens and the centre-right Free Democrats has also faced strong headwinds recently.

Along with high immigration figures and a controversial plan to replace millions of home heating systems in the country, the government is working hard to bolster public support for Germany’s military aid to  Ukraine.

Its stance on the conflict represents a major change from German foreign policy of the last several decades, and is rejected by a sizeable portion of the populace –though it still enjoys majority support.

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