Germans go to the polls in three states Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt in a real-life test for Chancellor Angela Merkel policies, especially regarding refugee crisis.
1. What is at stake for Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming state elections?
2. In case of clear AfD’s gains what this could mean for federal politics in Germany especially if we are talking about refugee crisis?
Sebastian Bukow, Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätsicherung, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
1. The first question is not easy to answer. It is safe to say that Merkel is under pressure, but she managed to stabilize her position in the last weeks, for several reasons:
First, there still is no real alternative. If Merkel would resign, this would not be easy for CDU/CSU, and early national elections would not be helpful for CDU/CSU or SPD at all as they would lose votes (and seats) most likely.
Second, the last week made clear that Merkel’s (foreign) policy might be working at least in the medium run, esp. the deal with Turkey, and (at least some) media discuss the relevance of Merkel’s policy for the survival of the European Idea and Union (in contrast to a more national-state-oriented policy of other European governments).
But much more important might be domestic reasons for diminishing Merkel’s risk:
Esp. in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate both CDU frontrunners made some mistakes in their campaigns. E.g. both distanced themselves from Merkel referring to refugees’ policy but – as this was not helpful for their campaign – they moved back to Merkel’s position afterwards. This was at least not convincing and consequently both candidates lose voters’ support (as far as we know yet, based on surveys). In addition to this, both Land level elections are exceedingly personalized. Both frontrunners, Malu Dreyer and esp. Winfried Kretschmann, are very popular – and much more accepted than their challengers. This might make it easy to argue why they lost at least, even though this is only one aspect.
2. I would argue – referring to the theory of issue-ownership – that it was (and is) not helpful for CDU/CSU to compete with the AfD in terms of “harder” refugee’s policy. The AfD owns this issue (in terms of more restrictions and harder measurements). Consequently, it is not possible for CDU/CSU to “overtake them on the right lane” without losing median-voters, which are important for CDU/CSU as well. The problem is, CSU’s strategy emphasized the topic and allowed the AfD to gain support – so this was quite counterproductive. It would have been more helpful (in terms of a vote-seeking strategy) to address the topic in a more positive way (what, e.g. Kretschmann does): To point out that there is a challenging situation but that the government is able to handle it (which is, at least up to, more and more true in administrative terms, even though there is still a lot work to do).
However, the increasing success of AfD (and the European situation) will push the debate towards a harder refugee’s policy and it is quite likely that the national government will move in that direction as well, at least in some aspects (as the already did with the recent reforms of the asylum law).
Finally, it is not clear – up to now – if the success of right-populist AfD is a ‘normalization’ of the German political system (comparing to other European countries) or if this is much more are temporary situation, as the AfD profits by the saliency of the refugee topic. It is quite likely that AfD will lose some support on the long run, but it is quite clear as well that there is a larger, or at least a more visible, cleavage within society, as the polarization of the party system increases.
Kai Arzheimer, Professor of Political Science, University of Mainz
1. If the CDU does not perform well in the upcoming state elections, that will increase the internal pressure on Merkel, but only up to a point. Much of the blame will be laid at the doorstep of the candidates, especially since Wolf and Klöckner tried to put some distance between Merkel and themselves.
2. For the last few months, Merkel’s line has been to bring down the numbers of new arrivals by introducing tougher rules and by co-operating with Turkey. One very important for her (and for any German government) is to keep the Schengen system alive and to maintain what ever capacity to take and implement decisions is left in the European Union. There will be no U-turn over three state elections.
Ed Turner, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University
1. State elections matter for at least three reasons. They decide who runs the states, who are powerful in many areas of policy (such as education, justice and home affairs). They decide who will represent each state in German’s upper house, the Bundesrat, which has the ability to block much of the government’s programme. And of course they are an important test of public opinion. Given current controversy over Chancellor Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis, the results will certainly be scrutinised more closely than usual.
2. Observers have often been surprised that Germany has failed to have a long-standing, electorally successful party to the right of the CDU/CSU, and that may now be beginning to change, although the AfD is by no means stable in its internal organisation. If it is successful, the outcome is a paradox: it cannot be involved in a coalition, and it makes it likely that the only viable coalition in most states, and indeed nationally, is between the CDU/CSU and SPD (perhaps with another, smaller party on board as well). The more things change, the more they stay the same!