Why Merkel will (or won’t?) run for being the Chancellor?

There are huge speculations that Chancellor Angela Merkel may say on Sunday if she will run again for being the Chancellor. If she do this what is her biggest advantage and what about her biggest weakness in terms of attracting voters? Read few comments?

Sebastian BukowWissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätsicherung, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

Most likely Merkel will run for office again, as I assume, and there are some good reasons for her to do so:

– Despite the last year’s problems, she is still accepted and supported in the electorate. Even though support decreased, she is still very popular (among the top 5 politicians in Germany) and will be able to do a good job in terms of campaigning and electoral outcome.

– In addition to this, the intra-coalition-conflicts (esp. CDU vs. CSU) were significantly reduced recently, as the CSU will not be able to prolong the conflict with the CDU.

– Furthermore, the migration topic vanishes slightly as other topics gain importance (esp. the new populism and the US election), and this might go on until next year.

– She might – cp. Steinmeier’s nomination for presidency – point out that she stands for stability in these indeed eventful days – and this will be an even more powerful argument, since her most likely opponent Gabriel is said to be quite erratic in terms of policy positions.

– All in all, there is not a broadly supported successor visible, who would get broad intra-party and electoral support (well, at least e.g. Schäuble or von der Leyen might be interested, but both would come along with different problems).

However, there as some cons in terms of weaknesses. I would like to mention two aspects:

– A relevant part of (former CDU/CSU-)voters will still vote for the AfD, as the AfD is still in the game (despite their internal conflicts), and this might not change fundamentally in the next year.

– Much more problematic might be the quite insecure prospect after the election: Beside the Grand Coalition, it will be quite difficult for CDU/CSU to form a majority coalition. Esp. a CDU/CSU-Greens-Coalition is less likely now – the CSU is not interest in supporting this anymore, and consequently the electoral campaign might suffer due to a lack of convincing prospects. (Which is, in fact, a problem for SPD as well, since red-red-green might be not that easy as well).

Christian Schweiger, Senior Lecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

On Merkel – I do expect her to run again in next year’s election as she by now has adopted a Helmut Kohl-style attitude which seems to suggest that she is the only one who can successfully lead the CDU. If she does run she will nevertheless face the toughest election campaign since she became chancellor 11 years ago. There is still a substantial section of Germans in the West who are in favour of Merkel’s calm, hesitant and compromise-orientated leadership style. In the Eastern parts of Germany Merkel however faces increasing open hostility in response to her management of last year’s refugee crisis. Here she is considered to be arrogant, out of touch and governing on the basis of the ‘there is no alternative’ mantra. Many voters in the East also do not share Merkel’s emphasis of liberal values which is why her electoral standing will continue to decline in these regions if she is now celebrated as the standard bearer of liberal democracy by the national and international media.

I would expect that the CDU will lose many voters in the East to the AfD, who may end up with an overall result that is higher than the currently predicted 14-15 per cent in the polls. I would not be surprised if the AfD gets over 20 per cent nationwide as it is also likely to attract many disillusioned SPD voters and even quite a good number from the Linke. Merkel will also struggle to attract support in Bavaria where she is only half-heartedly supported by the sister party CSU – many in the CSU would actually like to see her fail. If the CSU ends up with a bad result in Bavaria because of Merkel it could result in a majority for the SPD, Greens and the Linke as no CDU chancellor has ever won an election without a good result in Bavaria. Merkel also faces the risk that the grassroots of the SPD will push Gabriel (or whoever will become the leading candidate) towards forming an alternative coalition than that of another grand coalition if it becomes numerically possible.

To sum it up I would therefore say that if Merkel runs her biggest weakness will be her management of the refugee crisis and her overall social democratic and liberal policy approach which increasingly alienates voters in the East and also more conservative Western regions like Bavaria. She may be able to make this up by presenting herself as a steadfast leader, especially if Gabriel is the SPD’s leading candidate. Gabriel is generally regarded as moody and not very principled by many voters which could help Merkel to once again win on the basis of the ‘Sie kennen mich’ (You know me) slogan she used successfully against Peer Steinbrueck at the last election. Again if she is praised to much by the international media as the ‘queen’ of liberal values she may lose even more support in Eastern Germany and rural conservative regions in the West than she has already done as a result of the refugee crisis management. Overall I would not rule out a Trump effect which could result in a massive boost for AfD at expense of the CDU/CSU and the SPD, especially if in the run-up to next year’s election social or security problems arise which result from the mass influx of refugees.

Thorsten Benner, Director, Global Public Policy Institute

I think the answer to both questions is that voters know her.

“You know me” was her campaign promise last time around. Today, for part of the electorate in troubling times with the rise of Trump and the radical right in Europe this is still an important promise. Merkel is the remaining voice of reason.

For another part of the electorate, this is exactly the problem. They know Merkel and either after the refugee crisis they are unhappy with her political choices and they want her out or they are generally tired of a politician serving that long.

Eric Langenbacher, Associate Teaching Professor, Department of Government , Georgetown University

Merkel still represents stability, moderation, and continuity. The many Germans who value that will vote for her. It is unlikely that the SPD will field a strong, charismatic challenger–especially now that Steinmeier looks set to be the next president. I also think that she will win back some disaffected voters now that she is taking a harder stance on the migration and integration issue.

Merkel’s weakness will be with those that are more deeply disaffected–those who are looking for a more “revolutionary” right populist change (Trump voters, Brexit supporters, AfD supporters). Also, the hard Left will not support her (and never have). I think this weakness is a little over-exaggerated. The AfD is now polling in the 10-12% range.

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