A green wind of change is blowing through the German political landscape as a poll on Monday puts the Green Party above Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) just five months before the national elections.
The global poll, published by Pollytix Strategic Research, puts the Greens in the lead for the first time since June 2019.
The German party landscape has long proved more resistant to sudden upheaval than its European neighbors, with the CDU retaining its status as the country’s supreme political power while sister parties in France or Italy fell into oblivion.
But the latest polls suggest the Tories, who have ruled Germany for 16 years, could be ousted as the strongest party in the Bundestag on September 26.
Six out of 10 polls published in the past two weeks instead show an advantage for the Greens, who clinched fifth place when Germany last went to the polls in 2017. A poll released on Sunday by pollster Kantar and the newspaper Bild am Sonntag gave the Greens with a lead of three points, on 27%.
This suggests that the Green Party candidate, Annalena Baerbock, might even find herself in the comfortable position of being able to choose from a variety of potential coalition partners, with power-sharing deals with the CDU, the Social Democratic Party ( SPD) and the Free Democrats, or the left-wing SPD and Die Linke, all at a touching distance from a majority.
Stefan Merz, director of pollster Infratest Dimap, said currently expressed voting intentions would need to remain in place for two to three weeks to prove reliable indicators.
“But after years of very little movement in the German political party hierarchy, there is now a feeling that the game is being reshuffled and that we may be on the threshold of a historic moment,” said Merz. at the Guardian.
Volatility appears in polls as the German public increasingly turned on the government following a long but ineffective semi-lockdown and vaccination rollout that exposed the poor state of services digital technology and the country’s bureaucracy.
Armin Laschet, the 60-year-old CDU leader and contender for Merkel’s continuity, was presented as the party man for the top post, just as the outgoing chancellor looked more helpless and short of ideas that at any time of his 16 years of leadership at the top of Europe’s largest economy.
Baerbock, 40, a graduate of the LSE, co-leader of the Greens for three years but lacking experience in senior positions, launched her campaign on a reform message, proposing, for example, a term limit for the chancellor under his leadership.
“Experience can act as a drag, tying you to the past,” Der Spiegel wrote of Baerbock’s candidacy. “New and visionary ideas often come from young minds.”
The underlying theme of his campaign so far is that Germany is more innovative than its political class – a claim that received a boost last week when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s climate targets government do not go far enough.
If there is still some caution around the hopes of the Green Party, it is because German voters have repeatedly shown how much they value continuity.
Polls leading up to the 2005 federal election indicated a 15-point lead over the ruling Social Democrats for the CDU, then entering their first election with Merkel as a candidate. In the end, his party won the election by a narrow margin.
Also in 2017, the announcement of the candidacy of Social Democrat Martin Schulz pushed the ratings of his center-left party above those of the ruling CDU. But by early summer, the hype around Schulz had evaporated.
“The question is whether the Greens can maintain their momentum once most of the country has been vaccinated, stores will reopen and people can go on vacation,” pollster Merz said. “If the national debate shifted to economics at this point, the CDU could regain lost ground.”
Whether Laschet, a politician who has struggled to rally his own party behind his candidacy, can convince the German public that he is the ideal man to keep the country on a level playing field, will be l one of the key questions for the coming months.
A key factor distinguishes the September vote from those that preceded it. For the first time since 1949, the Germans will head to the voting booth in an election where the outgoing chancellor will not stand for re-election. All of Merkel’s predecessors either lost their last election or resigned before completing their last term.
“When voters go to the voting booth, they tend to focus on their future prospects rather than past achievements,” said Matthias Jung, pollster for the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen research institute.
“At best, the highlights of the past 16 years will be remembered as a badge of core competence,” Jung told The Guardian. “Merkel’s successes are only hereditary to a very limited extent.”