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The Upcoming Federal German Election on September 26, 2021: Is there a sensation of an electoral victory of the Social Democrats in Germany in the upcoming national “Bundestag” election on September 26, 2021?

For a long time, this election appeared to be a “boring” election, as it was considered certain that the candidate of the conservative CDU / CSU Union would win. Now everything seems to be different, and polls point to a possible victory for the social democratic SPD with its top candidate Olaf Scholz. The Covid pandemic could create a desire for more change here.

Germany is generally seen as a stable democracy. This stability also is reflected in the results of federal elections. Since the turn of the millennium, the Christian Democrats (CDU / CSU) have always been above the 30% election mark, and in 2013 they even reached more than 40%. The Social Democrats (SPD), on the other hand, began to weaken from 2009 onward, when they slipped to below 30%, and thus moved within a national vote corridor of 20-30%. In 2002, the SPD came very close to the CDU / CSU Union, which it only managed to do before in 1972. It seemed that the SPD was moving on the path of a constant downward trend, that is, slipped to second place, and was thus more and more clearly placing behind the the Christian Democrats. The Greens and the center-right Free Democrats (FDP) positioned themselves around 10%, but with greater pendulum swings among the Free Democrats. The left party PDS (with the exception of 2009) could not break through the 10% voting wall.

The open question in Germany was not so much the political competition between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, because the dominance there was clearly with the CDU / CSU. Rather, there were concerns as to whether the pronounced right-wing populist AfD (“Alternative for Germany [Deutschland]”) might not generate substantive voter movements in their favor. For a long time, Germany was considered atypical in European comparison in that it was a political system in which no right-wing populist party with a more significant share of the vote could permanently anchor itself. While right-wing populists were often on the advance around Germany, Germany appeared in this context as a place of stability that gave right-wing populists little chance. Right-wing populism is widely viewed as one of the major political threats to Western democracies, resulting in the tricky situation of how a change in government and opposition parties can take place without being forced to ultimately accept right-wing populists into government. It is an open secret in France that the majority-voting-formula was introduced in France in order to force the parties into electoral alliances, with the subsequent expectation that the right-wing populists will be locked out. If Germany could avoid the “specter of right-wing populism”, this expressed hopes that Germany had come to terms with its past in the sense to have learned here historically.

Later, in Germany, this “protective wall against the right” showed clearer cracks with the rise of the right-wing populist AfD (Alternative for Germany). For a longer time, the left-wing (populist) PDS was able to absorb a certain resentment of some voters in the former East German provinces within reunited Germany, but the PDS later weakened. There is also a grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats at the federal level in Germany, which can offer right-wing populists options for particular political attacks, as experience from other European countries clearly shows. In the federal election 2013, the AfD received 4.7% of the vote, and almost tripled that to 12.6% in the subsequent federal election in 2017. In surveys since then, the AfD has increased this proportion even further, up to almost 20%. All of this could have had dramatic consequences, also for the European level and the European Union. But then this wave in favor of the AfD again broke in the opinion polls, and in the course of 2019 it were mainly the Greens who were in an interim survey high.

The selection of the top candidate for the 2021 federal election was not entirely free of friction for the conservative Union, as there were two candidates in a closer race: the more conservative Markus Söder, also Prime Minister of the Free State of Bavaria, who claimed to have the better survey results, and who applied for the CSU. For the CDU, however, the more moderate Armin Laschet, additionally Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, positioned himself. Laschet was able to decide this internal match in his favor, and in April, of this year, was finally officially chosen as the Union’s common candidate for chancellor. As some believed, Laschet had the better and more influential networks within CDU / CSU. Laschet also presented himself as the “perfect successor” of current Chancellor Angelika Merkel. The social democratic SPD agreed on Olaf Scholz as their top candidate, currently also Federal Minister of Finance. The Greens (Bündnis 90 / die Grünen) finally chose Annalena Baerbock as their top candidate. As a special style of the TV debates, the decision was made on two crucial “Trielle” debates between Laschet, Scholz and Baerbock, but without participation of the left (PDS) and the right-wing populists (AfD). The two dates for this were May 20, and September 12.

At the beginning of May, the world and polls for Laschet and the Christian Democrats CDU / CSU still seemed to be in order (see polls). But then a dynamic took place that was not foreseen in this way. The CDU / CSU Union fell back, and, toward the end of August, the SPD began to overtake the Christian Democrats in the polls. Less than two weeks before the decisive federal national election in 2021, the parties position themselves in the opinion polls as follows: SPD around 25%, CDU / CSU around 20%, Greens around 15%, and FDP, AfD and PDS are similarly around 10% (see data). According to surveys, Scholz was able to clearly book the second “Triell” in his favor. Scholz would win a direct election as Federal Chancellor, scored points particularly with the undecided voters, had greater powers of persuasion, was seen as the most credible and the most competent politician. Baerbock of the Greens was considered to be the most likeable person and conveyed the greatest “political energy”. Laschet, on the other hand, turned out to be placed-behind in the sense that he could not clearly score points against his competitors in any of the areas covered.

Of course, opinion polls may never be confused with an actual election result outcome. For a long time, it was considered certain that the Christian Democratic Union CDU / CSU would win the federal election in 2021. But now there is a possibility of a sensation of a surprise result in which the Social Democrats and their top candidate Scholz could win a national election. While the Greens criticize the current grand coalition primarily as a phenomenon of major stagnation, for example on climate issues and a hesitant coal exit, Scholze of the social democratic SPD at least partially managed to be seen as the better modernizer of the moderate center. Lasche, from the CDU / CSU, is challenged in the sense of what his new political agenda will be in the aftermath and in continuation of Merkel, who is the successful long-term Chancellor of conservative CDU / CSU. Perhaps, the Covid pandemic acted also a “game changer” for the public mood in Germany, resulting in a desire for more of change. If the polls are correct, this time the election match will go against the right-wing populists, as they will not make any significant profits. This would make democracy the real winner.

About the Author

David F.J. Campbell

Founder & Director

David is an Associate Professor for Comparative Political Science at the University of Vienna. His thematic core focuses are quality of democracy in a global perspective, knowledge and innovation in a knowledge economy and knowledge democracy, where David co-created (together with Elias G. Caraynnis) the concept and theory of the Quadruple and Quintuple Helix Innovation Systems. Additional themes of his are interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in the sciences and arts.