It seems that Martin Schulz might be able to re-energised SPD, SocDems even beat CDU/CSU in one poll after a very long time. What is his biggest advantage and the biggest weakness when facing Angela Merkel? And what is her biggest advantage and the biggest weakness when facing Schulz?
Eric Langenbacher, Teaching Professor, Department of Government , Georgetown University
The spike in the SPD’s polling numbers surprised almost everyone–including me. The fact that he is beating/tied with Merkel in a face-to-face matchup is also unexpected. But, as the Germans say, mal sehen (we’ll see). Hi biggest advantage is that he is a fresh face. Unlike the SPD ministers, he does not have domestic policies to live down. Yet, he has substantial political and policy experience, so no neophyte here. He is very similar to Schroeder in 1998 in these regards: sufficiently experienced, but unsullied and fresh. Merkel on the other hand has over a decade of top leadership experience, a solid record of responding to crises, and a strong enough economy. Also, one should never underestimate her ability to undermine rivals or simply to be the last, best woman standing. The Bundestag election will be about how much change/continuity German voters want.
Thorsten Benner, Director, Global Public Policy Institute
Schulz biggest strength is that he is a new face in Berlin who hasn´t been part of the Merkel government and who can credibly embody the agenda of social justice he is pushing with his party. His biggest challenge is to credibly claim that the SPD can end up with a majority independent of Merkel without being plagued by a discussion what a Red-Red-Green government with the Left party would really entail or whether he´d be willing to serve as second in command to Merkel in a renewed “grand coalition” should the SPD fall short of a viable alternative majority.
Merkel´s biggest strength is her claim to being an experienced, calm leader in difficult times. That´s also her biggest weakness is that she has been around for so long, that some have gotten bored with her (or outright antagonized by either her refugee policy or the constant fighting with the Bavarian sister party) and are ready for a fresh face.
Joyce Mushaben, Curators’ Professor of Comparative Politics & Gender Policies, University of Missouri–St. Louis
Schulz will have a hard time the “energizing the traditional base” of working class Germans, because the economy has been performing very well since Merkel assumed office. That economic boom kicked in AFTER SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was forced OUT of office for adopting the kinds of labor market reforms (Hartz I- IV) that made it possible.
The SPD has supported all of the citizenship/migration/ integration reforms, the energy turn-around, and even the response to the Euro-crisis upheld by Merkel. Indeed, these measures were adopted by Grand Coalitions, so Schulz has few grounds for “attacking” Merkel’s policies outright.
The national-populist or right-wing malcontents who loudly reject Merkel’s policies involving the refugees would sooner vote for the AfD or the CSU in Bavaria. In essence the CDU and the SPD will both have to appeal to the center to keep the far-right from establishing a foothold in the Bundestag. Schulz cannot really play to the so-called “far left” because those people also overlap in some strange ways with AfD supporters – a lot of Easterners who feel that “life has passed them by” – although most actually enjoy higher living standards (and pensions) today, than they did before unification.
Thus, the only “advantage” that Schulz would have is that he is “not Merkel,” if people are tired of her by now. Hard to see how he will “energize” younger voters who have benefited from Merkel’s family policies, internationalization of science/research/technology fields, who embrace her courageous stance on refugees, etc. – even though I and many other EU experts know that she used a lot of EU directives as leverage for those policies.
People who MIGHT have grown tired of Merkel are now more likely to want to KEEP her, given the election of the crazy man (I call him Twittler) who has seized control of the White House. Merkel has taken a strong stance against Putin, Merkel is going to be a tough negotiator regarding the Brexit conditions, and Merkel is clearly the smartest, most rational person in the room when it comes to managing one global crisis after another. Schulz has been out of the national picture for years — and Germans appreciate the continuity, stability , pragmatism and integrity that she represents.
Florian Hartleb, Political Scientist, Consultant