Feb 152017
 

Seven months before the election, what’s up with the Alternative für Deutschland?

I’ve kept repeating this since the Alternative für Deutschland’s ascendancy in the polls began in late 2015: the AfD’s electoral popularity depends on a) steering away from open right-wing extremism, which has frustrated previous attempts to establish a right-wing populist party in Germany, and b) presenting a united front. With the beginning of the (long) campaign, the party is not doing too well on both counts. Let’s have a look at seven of my favourite conflicts within the party.

Putsch in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)?

The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

#1 Right-wing extremism in Saarland – not a problem, really

The Saarland (always with the article) is a small state in the West with an interesting history and a relatively lively right-wing scene. The AfD state party is so closely involved with said right-wing extremists that the Alternative’s national executive – not normally given to anti-fascist activism – voted to disband the state party back in March 2016. However, the national executive lost a legal battle with the state party leadership, and the state party could continue. The executive then asked the state party not to field any candidates in the upcoming 2017 federal election. The state party politely declined this request. Incidentally, the state party’s number three was caught on camera selling Nazi devotionalia in his shop.

#2 Anti-Semitism in Baden-Württemberg

Shortly after the March 2016 state election in Baden-Württemberg, it emerged that Wolfgang Gedeon, one of the freshly minted MPs for the Alternative für Deutschland is an anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist. Jörg Meuthen – party leader in Baden-Württemberg, head of the parliamentary party in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament and one of the party’s two national “speakers” – , who is usually typecast as one of the remaining economic liberal/socially conservative characters in the AfD, unsuccessfully tried to expel Gedeon from the parliamentary party. As a result, the parliamentary party split in two in July. Legal and political chaos ensued. Meuthen’s co-leader Frauke Petry arrived on the scene, allegedly trying to make peace, but most observers agreed that this intervention was part of the ongoing power struggle between Petry and Meuthen. Finally, after three months of strife, the two factions re-united under Meuthen’s leadership.

#3 Candidate selection in NRW

With roughly the same population as the Netherlands, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is the most populous federal state in Germany. In German Politics, NRW and its politicians are heavy-weights. The state will go to the polls in May 2017, and the result will be read as a bellwether for the federal election September. The AfD state party is lead by Marcus Pretzell, one of the two remaining MEPs for the AfD. Pretzell is controversial within “his” party. In November, he and his inner circle were accused of using undue methods to orchestrate the selection of candidates for the upcoming state election. In January, the state’s returning officer decided that although there had been irregularities, the process was deemed legal so that he would provisionally accept the list of candidates. The final decision will be made in May. While it looks unlikely at the moment, in theory the party could be barred from taking part in the election.

#4 Litigation in Schleswig-Holstein

The northern state of Schleswig-Holstein is also going to the polls in May. Thomas Tomsen, the former (until May 2016) leader of the state party has tried to sue his successor, Jörg Nobis. Tomsen claims that scores of his supporters were not invited to the assembly that elected Nobis. In January, Tomsen lost a court case on formal grounds: The judges ruled that Tomsen has to go through the internal system of party courts before he can appeal to a regular, public court. And so the former and the present leader will spend at least a part of the election campaign in court(s). The lawyer for the current leadership has defended NPD politicians in the past and is himself a well-known right-winger.

#5 Factions. More factions

In the past, the “Patriotic Platform” has brought together the right-wingers amongst the right-wingers in the AfD. But apparently, the PP has become too pussy-footed by the standards of some of their leading lights. The blick nach rechts blog reports that some former members of the PP’s federal executive are setting up the “Free Patriotic Alternative”. Judean People’s Front vs People’s Front of Judea, anyone?

#6 Höcke

Speaking of the Patriotic Platform and right-wingers, Björn Höcke, the leader of the state party in Thuringia, is the most visible amongst the ultra-right within the party. In his speeches/performances, he borrows heavily from the ideas, vocabulary, and style of the Weimar Republic’s anti-democratic right. In the past, he came under fire when he claimed that “not each and every member of the [right-wing extremist] NPD was an extremist”. Then-party leader Bernd Lucke tried to expel Höcke, but failed. Colleague Andreas Kemper has made it his life’s ambition to demonstrate that Höcke has published racist dribble in an NPD party paper pseudonymously. He is probably right. Höcke also made waves (and came close to being kicked out of the party once more) when he gave speech at an extremist think tank where he referred to Africans as a “different species” which pursues “an expansive pro-creational strategy”.

His latest exploit was a speech in which he said that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was shameful, and that Germany’s approach to its past was seriously misguided and hence required a complete turnaround. The speech was given on the 75th anniversary of the infamous “Wannsee Conference”, where the organisational groundwork for the Holocaust was laid. The national executive made a move to expel Höcke in January but in the end left it at a formal censure. Last Monday, after much toing and froing behind the scenes, a large majority voted to start a protracted process that could possibly, but not necessarily, end with Höcke’s departure from the party.

#7 The nationalist international

Pretzell is a member of the ENF group in the European Parliament. Although the AfD’s official policy is to keep their distance from other right-wing populist parties in Europe, Pretzell organised a (highly publicised) ENF meeting in the German city of Koblenz on January 21. Amongst the attendees were Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Matteo Salvini and (drumroll) Frauke Petry, who had not sought a consensus with other members of the executive. At least the German public perceived the conference as an AfD event. There were not too many happy faces seen on the executive board.

It’s not (just) about extremism. It is (also) about The Leader and her Lover vs The Rest

As a relatively young party, the AfD has many leaders and leaderlings, and since Lucke’s departure the public tends to perceive the party through the lenses of their respective personas (how is that for a mixed and convoluted metaphor?). Much of the ongoing conflict within the AfD is about ideology, or rather about the party’s general public image as “conservative-liberal”, “national-consersavtive”, right-wing populist or even right-wing extremist. But personalities, personal ambitions, and personal animosities are at least as important.

Petry was perceived as more radical than Lucke, yet representing something like a centrist position within the Lucke-less AfD. However, one important reason for ascendancy was that she seemed more willing to accept a modicum of collective leadership than Lucke – a perception that has now faded. Petry frequently tries to bypass the party structures. The party base, in turn, has denied her her wish to become the party’s sole “Spitzenkandidat” for the federal election.

Petry’s key ally is Pretzell, whom she married in December. Both are on record saying that refugees could be shot at the German border, which is not exactly the hallmark of a moderate. Pretzell was quick to blame the Berlin terror attack on refugees and Merkel, and Petry suggested that the word “völkisch” – the traditional self-description of German nationalists – should be seen as a positive term “again”. The last time this word had a positive connotation was during the Nazi era. Meuthen, who likes to give the impression that he is more liberal than Petry, failed to vet Gedeon before he was selected as a candidate. Meuthen also suggested that AfD MPs should not automatically vote against any proposal drafted by NPD in state parliaments, and voted against the motion to expel Höcke, whom he has supported on other occasions, too.

Four years after its inception, the AfD is still a very mixed bag of right-wingers, warring amongst each other for all sorts of reasons. And while I’m writing this, Der Tagesspiegel reports that not just his own people but also Alexander Gauland (another party heavy-weight and member of the national executive) and unspecified “supporters” are “urging” Höcke, the man under the gun, to run in the Bundestag election to challenge Petry. Höcke has previously ruled out any ambitions to leave Thuringia, but might now be tempted to stage a coup. I long to see how the politicking in the AfD will play out over the next seven months.

Jan 272017
 

With the upcoming (well, sort of) election and the shenanigans in the SPD, the world is watching Germany. The other day, I was interviewed by a journalist working for Diário de Notícias.

Just like the next guy, I love the sound of Portuguese, but I don’t understand any more than the odd word that comes my way. If you are like me, you might be interested in the transcript that I authorised:

  • Is Schulz a stronger candidate than Gabriel?

Yes, insofar as he is currently more popular in the polls. If that translates into a real advantage remains to be seen.

  • What are his strongest and weakest points?

Unlike Gabriel, he has not been Merkel’s deputy for the last four years and so may appear more credible when he attacks her during the campaign. On the other hand, he has not held public office in Germany (apart from his spell in local politics that ended some two decades ago), and the CDU/CSU and the FDP will portray him as a lefty who is in favour of eurobonds and a lenient approach to the Eurocrisis.

  • Could this hurt Merkel’s ambitions of a fourth term?

I don’t think that the Schulz will lure many voters away from the CDU, but he might be more able than Gabriel to mobilise some reluctant SPD supporters.

  • Do you see a possible a wining coalition between SPD, Linke and Greens?

There is still a lot of bad blood between the SPD and the Left, and the Left is hugely unpopular with West German voters. Also, the Left is far away from the other two parties with respect to foreign policies, and the Greens have just endorsed a Spitzenkandidatenteam that appeals to the eco-conservatives. For these (and other) reasons, politicians of all three parties are reluctant about such a coalition, to say the least. Also, on current polling a red-red-green coalition is infeasible by a considerable margin.

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Jan 042017
 

The good folks over at the LSE (which, apart from running one of the most vibrant Political Science blogging sites on the planet also happens to host a university) have kindly asked me to look ahead at the likely outcome of the German Federal Election in September in general and the role of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in particular. I submitted my text early in December so that it could be published after Christmas. Following the terror attack on the Christmas market in Berlin, they offered me the opportunity to amend and slightly extend the text. I politely declined, because I thought that a horrific but fairly localised event such as this will not fundamentally affect the outcome of a still relatively distant election. I have been wrong before. Here is the link to the article on the EUROPP blog:

Dec 302016
 

2016 was a year of outrage. All over the globe, angry white men (well, mostly) were outraged over something (the EU, refugees, people of colour, feminists, and whatnot), and many took their outrage to the social media. One of the most outraging of them all will soon tweet from the White House. And all over my filterbubble, people are retweeting this outrageous dribble to show the world how outrageous it is, because they are, well, outraged. 

Now, some of them are waking up to the fact that, for rather obvious reasons, this is not necessarily a clever idea.

In an Internet galaxy far, far away, a long time ago, before social media or even the invention of the world wide web, people on the Usenet would occasionally engage in “flamewars” – protracted, hostile exchanges of opinion with a very low discourse quality index. Does this sound vaguely familiar? 

Traditionally, a flamewar would end with a final insult, followed by the addition of the opponent’s name to a “killfile” (the equivalent of blocking that person). Sending a very large binary file to the other side’s mailbox (then a deadly weapon that could bring down a whole computer system) was optional.

The wiser denizens of the Usenet, however, would spot a provocative statement that was likely to trigger a flamewar and simply ignore it. Instead of picking up the fight, they would try to warn off others who were about to get involved  with a mantra that was repeated with Yoda-like patience: “Don’t feed the troll.” 

Technology may have changed a bit. The nature and needs of the internet troll are remarkably constant.So: retweet responsibly. 

Nov 202016
 

I found this behind my desk whilst dusting.

Here is a polite suggestion: You might have used the indicative mood. It would have come across slightly more forceful and convincing. That, in turn, could have made a difference. Things would not be such a mess now. Next time around (if there were to be such a thing), you ought to bear that in mind.

Nov 132016
 

The one and only Philip Schrodt has written what I think is the perfect seven-take-home-messages rant on that election and it’s likely outcomes. Skip all the self-flagellation/yes-but posts and read this instead:

Then again, there is one thing that does not get enough coverage in there, and that is the whole polling/prediction disaster. So you should read this, too:

There. Your Sunday sorted out.

Nov 102016
 

The right-wing website Breitbart, one of the key allies of the Trump campaign, has told Reuters (link to the article is below) that they want to expand their network to include sites for France and Germany. Breitbart already has a site in the UK, which was an important part of the pro-Brexit network. Allegedly, they have begun hiring staff, so they must think that there is a market for their kind of journalism in these two countries. Goddess help us all.

Nov 092016
 
Ballot - Vote

I’m not a huge fan of predictive Social Science. People are not the weather; they are bound to react to our predictions, which may become self-defeating or self-fulfilling in the process. Either scenario is unpleasant for obvious reasons. Predictive models are often subject to herd behaviour. They rarely rely on first principles, which makes them rather less interesting in terms of understanding the underlying dynamics, and may therefore fail rather spectacularly if the underlying, often implicit assumptions fail. This, in turn, tends to leave us with egg on our collective face.

Having said that, and looking at the rather spectacular result of the US presidential election, it’s difficult not to be impressed by Helmut Norpoth’s “Primary Model”, which predicted a solid Trump victory back in March. The Primary Model relies on very little data, has a relatively long lead (time from prediction to event), and a good track record: It has correctly identified the winner ever since it was introduced in 1996. Whether that makes HN a happy man today is a different matter.

The Primary Model’s rather quaint website is here; the link above points to a more accessible contribution by Norpoth to the PS symposium on forecasting the 2016 election. Which brings us back to the collective egg/face problem.

Update

I wrote  the original post in the early hours of November 9, when it was clear that Trump had a majority in the Electoral College. Since then, it has become clear that Clinton has won the popular vote, probably by a considerable margin. Because (as a couple of people have noted on Twitter) the Primary Model aims at predicting the popular vote, even Political Science’s consolation prize is gone. 

Nov 082016
 

The ‘s leadership is highly fragmented. Regional figures play an important role for the ideology and image of the party. The national executive has not one, but two party chairs. While Frauke Petry is the more prominent and visibly of the two, co-leader Jörg Meuthen, an academic economist, has long refused to be sidelined in the struggle for power within the party.

For months, Meuthen has declined to rule out that he would stand as Spitzenkandidat for his party in the upcoming 2017 Bundestag election. But yesterday, he finally announced that he wants to keep his seat in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament. Of course, there is a barb: Meuthen also said that someone else could be Petry’s co-Spitzenkandidat.

Source: Jörg Meuthen: AfD-Chef will nicht in den Bundestag

Nov 032016
 

Who will be the next US President?  Some commentators have argued that voter intention polls are flawed because it is difficult to know who will actually turn out to vote. To get around this problem, Andreas Murr , Mary Stegmaier , and Michael S. Lewis-Beck use citizen forecasts, a “who do you think will win” survey question, to predict the election result. 

The method is . . . unusual. Here is the full article: Using citizen forecasts we predict that with 362 electoral votes, Hillary Clinton will be the next president 

BTW, Helmut Norpoth, who has an excellent track record, is (still) 80+% sure that Trump will win