Three weeks can go by in what feels like a moment. Three weeks can make a huge difference. That is what I presume the German parties tell themselves looking at their schedule leading up to the German Federal Election taking place 24th September.
After fierce battles in previous major elections in The Netherlands and France, that boiled down to established parties facing off against populist and right centered candidates, many expected a similar situation in Germany. The AFD (Alternative for Germany), after all, has had some success in recent years, feeding off the refugee crisis slowly spinning out of control, Terror Attacks and a surge in followers, reaching new heights in selected state elections. The German Federal Election is different though, isn’t it?
Germany is currently ruled by a “Major Coalition”, consisting of the two main established parties CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats) and SPD (Social Democrats) with the CDU providing Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel has been holding office for 12 years straight and is looking for another four-year extension, and things do look good so far, but more on this later.
The Face-Off That Never Was
With the Social Democrats being part of the government, yet having a lower seat count, they have been able to collaborate and shape the country in the past four years to a certain degree. However, compromises had to be made. Merkel’s CDU has undoubtedly been shifting further left during her time as chancellor, still there do remain enough topics where agreements couldn’t be reached. This and the fact that it has been 12 years since the SPD was able to rule the country with an appointed chancellor, made this election cycle critical to be able to final seize more control and power instead of just treading alongside the CDU. The 2017 German Federal Election could have been an incredible opportunity for the party, and they were determined to try something new.
Hopes were high when the SPD made Martin Schulz head of the party and official candidate for the 2017 election. Schulz had previously been President of the European Parliament and was about to face the perhaps most powerful political figurehead within the EU. It promised to be an interesting Face-Off and a hard fought campaign, yet three weeks before German citizens are about to spend their Sunday throwing marked papers into ballots, none of that seems to happen.
According to recent polls, CDU/CSU are leading with about 38% followed by the SPD with a meager 24% and the other major parties sitting at around 7-9% each and 5% shared among the smaller parties.
Was that it already?
However tense and exciting the initial predictions might have been, the current state of the 2017 German Federal Election couldn’t be less exciting. Merkel seems to have almost lost any interesting in stirring up anything and plays it safe. Martin Schulz and the SPD seem eager, but in the end, cannot be described as anything but harmless.
Even though they won’t battle for the position of chancellor, the AFD might, after all, be the biggest surprise of the election. Though currently predicted to sit at about 9%, bear in mind this is their second federal election after barely scraping by the 5% hurdle in 2013, getting no seats in the parliament. This will most likely be a historic election for the populistic and right oriented party. Their ability to sway a lot of previous non-voters is especially worrying, especially since the FAZ reported that approximately 46% of voters have not yet decided who to vote for (as of 08/22/2017), the highest number in 20 years.
The missing dynamic and felt lack of choices does not improve things either. According to the same survey, 45% of voters believe the outcome is pretty much determined at this point, expressing a sincere feeling of boredom and lack of interest, confirmed by the previously mentioned number of undecided voters.
Three Weeks Until the 2017 German Federal Election
As said in the very first sentence, three weeks can go by in a moment’s notice, yet they can have a severe impact. Especially looking at the number of undecided people eligible to vote, there is a lot of shifting still possible coming from these early polls. The utterly uninteresting campaigning so far has not done the German Federal Election any favors, and that might hurt Germany the most either by a lower than expected turnout (previous Federal Elections had a turnout of above 70%) or by voters making impulsive decisions that could benefit a party like the AFD.
The party could maybe jump as high as 20% which they seem to see as a realistic number to strive for. We have seen how a low turnout can affect the outcome of an election last year when Donald Trump won the American Election ever so slightly, something that is very unlikely to happen in the German Federal Election, yet that is exactly what Americans thought as well.
That also means not everything is lost for Schulz though, especially since a candidate debate will take place tonight on German television, which, if we look at undecided voters, could generate a bit of momentum. Especially since Angela Merkel never exactly thrived at candidate debates in the past. This could indeed still turn out to become an interesting final stretch.
Let’s hope so, for the sake of German politics and an at least partially interesting German Federal Election.
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