In eleven state parliaments, the ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) is now. In German state elections in 2016, the party joined three state legislatures, including Saxony-Anhalt as the second strongest force behind Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Even in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, despite being a relative newcomer to the state, the AfD managed to reach second place with more than 20% of the vote. In some counties, such as in Bitterfeld in Saxony-Anhalt, the AfD achieved highs of more than 30%. And in the coming Bundestag elections on 24 September, some surveys are suggesting double-digit results.
But what makes the party so attractive? How is it able to motivate so many people who previously felt disenfranchised to get out and vote? Voter turnout in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was about 10% higher compared to the last election. The AfD alone managed to mobilise 56,000 people. People who don’t normally vote. No other party in Germany is able to do that.
We got a comment from Michael, who thinks that only the AfD will really bring about genuine change in Germany. To get a response, we spoke to Wolfgang Bosbach, who is a member of the Bundestag for the CDU. What would he say? Why does he think people vote for the AfD?
There’s no doubt that if the AfD had the responsibility of governing in Germany then things would change, but there’s no guarantee that it would be for the better. The AfD has once again impressively demonstrated at its Cologne party congress that it is not ‘only’ a bourgeois-conservative protest movement, but that it also tolerates – if not outright encourages – stubborn, radical-right ideas within its ranks. And this political path has always plagued Germany with great misery.
People turn away from established parties because they are disappointed; from frustration they found new parties. Therefore, the established parties would be well-advised to solve the problems which encourage people to choose other parties.
To get another response, we also spoke to Werner Patzelt, Professor of Political Science at the Dresden University of Technology. He has been criticised in recent years, with some accusing him of being “friendly” with the anti-immigration street protest movement Pegida. What would he say to Michael?
The reasons for choosing the AfD are now quite well known. The main reason is the great dissatisfaction with the established parties felt by a significant minority of the German population. The biggest criticisms are the lack of willingness to listen to the wishes of the population, especially when it comes to European policy, immigration policy, and cultural change – which is now called “Islamisation”.
Finally, we had a comment from Pierre. He feels that the established parties, including the centre-right CDU and the centre-left SPD, always break their campaign promises. This comment was echoed by Wolfgang, who says he refuses to vote for any of the old parties anymore. But what about the AfD? Would they, assuming they got into power, really be able to implement all of their promises? Or are they comfortable in opposition, making populist promises but never having to turn them into actual policy?
To get a response, we spoke to Florian Hartleb, a political scientist who has written extensively on left-wing and right-wing populism. What would he say?
What the experiences in Europe show, for example the FPÖ in Austria […] or in other countries, is that these populist parties- and this can be seen at the moment also with Marine Le Pen – actually have more of a problem with corruption. They say, on the one hand, that they will clean up politics, and on the other hand they themselves are also very corrupt, and the AfD itself has already had a lot of scandals; cronyism, radicalisation, mud-slinging, and so on and so on. They say they will be a pious alternative to the old parties. On the other hand, they don’t keep their promises […].
Why do people choose to vote for the AfD? Is the refugee crisis to blame? Or does Germany’s “grand coalition” drive the electorate to the fringes of the political spectrum? Is there a deep mistrust of politics? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!