Six out of 10 polls published in past two weeks put Greens ahead of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union
Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s Green party co-leader and top candidate for the upcoming national election in September. Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP
The Guardian- Philip Oltermann in Berlin
A green wind of change is blowing through Germany’s political landscape as a poll-of-polls on Monday puts the Green party above Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) only five months before national elections.
The aggregate poll, published by Pollytix Strategic Research, puts the Greens in the lead for the first time since June 2019.
Germany’s party landscape has long proven more resistant to sudden upheavals than its European neighbours, with the CDU holding on to its status as the country’s supreme political power while sister parties in France or Italy slipped into oblivion.
But latest polls suggest the conservatives, who have governed Germany for the last 16 years, could be ousted as the strongest party in the Bundestag on 26 September.
Six out of 10 polls published over the last two weeks instead show an advantage for the Greens, who scraped into sixth place when Germany last went to the polls in 2017. A survey published by pollster Kantar and Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday gave the Greens in a three-point lead, on 27%.
It suggests the ecological party’s candidate, Annalena Baerbock, could even find herself in the comfortable position of being able to pick and choose from a variety of potential coalition partners, with possible power-sharing deals with the CDU, the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the Free Democrats, or the SPD and leftwing Die Linke.
Stefan Merz, the director of pollster Infratest Dimap, said the 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 hierarchy of Germany’s political parties, there is now a sense that the deck is being reshuffled and we could be on the threshold of a historic moment,” Merz told the Guardian.
Volatility is showing in the polls as the German public has increasingly turned against the government over a lengthy but ineffective semi-lockdown and a vaccination rollout that exposed the poor state of the country’s digital services and bureaucracy.
Armin Laschet, the 60-year-old CDU leader and Merkel continuity candidate, was presented as the party’s man for the top job just as the outgoing chancellor has looked more powerless and short of ideas than at any point in her 16-year leadership at the top of Europe’s largest economy.
LSE graduate Baerbock, 40, who has been the Green’s co-leader for three years but lacks experience in higher office, has launched her campaign on a message of reform, proposing, for example, a term limit for the chancellor under her leadership.
“Experience can act as drag, tying you to the past,” Der Spiegel wrote of Baerbock’s candidacy. “New, visionary ideas often come from young minds.”
The underlying theme of her campaign so far is that Germany is more innovative than its political class – a claim that got a boost last week when the country’s constitutional court ruled that the government’s climate targets do not go far enough.
But there is still uncertainty about the Green party’s chances because German voters have shown again and again how much they value continuity.
Polls in the run-up to the federal vote in 2005 indicated a towering 15-point lead over the governing Social Democrats for the CDU, then entering its first election with Merkel as candidate. In the end, her party only won the election by a thin margin.
In 2017, too, the announcement of Social Democrat Martin Schulz’s candidacy pushed his centre-left party’s ratings above those of the governing CDU. But by the start of the summer, the hype around Schulz had evaporated.
“The question is whether the Greens can keep up their momentum once the majority of the country has been vaccinated, the shops reopen and people can go on holiday again,” said pollster Merz. “If the national debate shifts to the economy at that point, the CDU could regain some 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 right man to keep the country on an even keel, will be one of the key questions of the coming months.
One key factor distinguishes the vote in September from those that came before. For the first time since 1949, Germans will head to the voting booth in an election where the incumbent chancellor will not be standing for reelection. All of Merkel’s predecessors either lost their last election or resigned before completing their last term in office.
“When voters go to the polling booth, they tend to focus on their prospects in the future rather than the achievements of the past,” said Matthias Jung, a pollster for research institute Forschungsgruppe Wahlen.
“At best, the high points of the last 16 years will be remembered as a badge of basic competency,” Jung told the Guardian. “Merkel’s successes are only inheritable to a very limited degree.”