Blog posts on the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)

The Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD for short, is a new-ish far-right party in Germany. The Extreme Right in Europe is one of my main research interests, and for many years, there had been no (successful) party in Germany to occupy this place in the political spectrum. I have published an article on the Alternative für Deutschland in West European Politics, and I'm currently working on another research paper on their use of Facebook. In the meantime, I blog on current developments and controversies within the party.

Oct 132017
 
Putsch in the AfD?

The AfD’s short history is once more repeating itself, never exactly a tragedy, but ever more farcical. Back in 2015, Bernd Lucke,the then prominent face of the party, became increasingly worried about its radicalisation. He tried to strengthen his position as leader, set up a network of like-minded individuals within the party, was accused of data theft by Frauke Petry when he tried to access the central mailing list, finally left the AfD after he was deposed by Petry, and founded a new party of his own that was supposed to be nutter-free and became utterly irrelevant in the process. He took with him many of the more moderate party elites, including most of the AfD’s MEPs.

Slightly more than two years down the line, Frauke Petry, Lucke’s nemesis, party co-chair and the erstwhile face of the AfD’s radicalisation, leaves a party that has become too radical for her taste. She takes with her her seat in the Bundestag, a small number of MPs at the state and federal level, and her husband, one of the two remaining MEPs for the AfD. The AfD has accused her of data theft, because – you would have guessed it – she allegedly tried to get hold of the central mailing list. More to the point, Petry and friends have registered a new party even before the election on September 24, which is called (and I kid you not) The Blue Party. You might think of the FPÖ, or even Le Pen’s Marine blue revolution. But Petry’s vision for the thing is this: To become “a CSU (the ever so slightly populist Bavarian sister part of Merkel’s CDU) at the national level”. If you tone down the rhetoric a tiny bit, that is not so far removed from Lucke’s idea of a liberal-conservative party to the right of the CDU and could have worked for Lucke’s AfD ca 2014. Once more, life imitates political satire.

Sep 242017
 
  1. The CDU/CSU’s result is bad, but mostly so in comparison to 2013. The Christian Democrats are the biggest party, but they have scored their second-worst result since forever. But they had similar results in 2005 and 2009. By her ratings, Merkel has not been terribly popular for most of her tenure. 2013 was lucky timing and a last minute swing from potential FDP voters (I guess)
  2. 27 years after unification, the gap between East and West is real. Electoral support for parties varies across states and regions, but the East-West gap stands out. The AfD’s much stronger in the East, making them the second party in some places.
  3. There could be new elections. The SPD has ruled out yet another Grand Coalition. That leaves the Jamaica option, but it is not at all clear if such a coalition is viable. At the federal level, it involves four players (because of the CSU), and all the smaller parties have their mutually incompatible red lines. The stakes are particularly high for the FDP. Freshly back from the electorally dead, they cannot be seen as selling out (once more) for the sake of getting into government. There is no guarantee that a coalition can be formed. The constitution stipulates no time limit and there will be no rush, but politicians may eventually come to the conclusion that they have to go to the polls again.
  4. The CSU’s result in Bavaria is very bad, comparatively speaking. The CSU are down to 38 per cent in Bavaria – that’s considerably better than the mainstream CDU did on the rest of Germany, but a disaster by local standards. The CSU used to be the rightmost democratic party in Germany. The rise of the AfD is a clear and present danger for them, particularly in the face of the upcoming state election.
  5. The AfD could split again. Today may be their biggest triumph, but September 24 could be the party’s undoing. When Frauke Petry got rid of Lucke, that was widely seen as a coup of the radical populists against the market liberals. In reality, Petry won with the tacit support of the real hardliners. Since then, the perception of what constitutes a moderate within the AfD has shifted, and Petry’s support has waned. The AfD’s parliamentary party will have 80+MPs, many of them with rather strange biographies and some with openly extremist credentials. Only a minority will support Petry, who is at least nominally still one of the AfD’s two co-leaders. While Petry has pondered the prospect of a coalition with the Christian Democrats a few years down the line, the parliamentary party will be uncouth and noisy. Alexander Gauland, the presumptive leader, has already announced that he will “hunt down” the government. It is therefore conceivable that Petry an those loyal to her and her husband will break away, and that the AfD itself will move even closer towards old-style right-wing extremism, which would in the medium-term undermine their electoral appeal.
Sep 232017
 

So: three more surveys. No kidding

Finality finally got a bit more final: just to annoy me (now here is a narcissist), three further surveys were published today (already yesterday in Germany). One of them is only new-ish: Emnid was in the field from September 14-21, so I take their data as a snapshot of the world as it was on September 17 (last Sunday). Forsa interviewed from September 18 to September 21, resulting in a mid-point of September 19 (Tuesday), while Insa did all their fieldwork on Thursday/Friday. But does this new information in any way alter the expectations? The short answer is:

It makes no difference

Here is a comparison of the overall estimates. They are virtually identical. The CDU/CSU is up by one point, but that is due to different rounding. The probability of the AfD coming third is now up at 99.6 per cent (from 96 per cent) and the point estimate for their lead over the Left is up, too, but again, that is due to rounding – the credible interval is much the same.

  yesterday     today
 Median  95 HDI  Median  95 HDI
 CDU/CSU      35  [34-37]      36  [34-37]
 CDU/CSU lead      14  [12-16]      14  [12-16]
 SPD      22  [21-23]      22  [21-23]
 FDP       9  [9-10]       9  [9-10]
 Greens       8  [7-9]       8  [7-9]
 Left      10  [9-10]      10  [9-10]
 AfD      11  [10-12]      11  [10-12]
 AfD lead      1 | [0-2.4] |     2 | [0.4-2.7]

No more graphs, because they would look the same. Coalition options do not change.  If the polls are right on average and the poll aggregation works, Grand Coalition and Jamaica are the mathematically possibilities. To be honest, in six per cent of my simulations a coalition of the Christian Democrats and the AfD would achieve a majority, but that is inconceivable.
That’s it. Move on. Nothing to see here until Sunday evening, which happens to be Sunday noon on my personal timescale.

Sep 222017
 

I just suppressed the urge to insert the word ’countdown’ into the headline. See what I’m doing here? We have four more polls by Allensbach and Forsa (published on Tuesday), and by FGW and GMS (published on Thursday), and presumably, these are the last that we are going to see before election day. Do they change the story?

First, let’s note that FGW has the very latest data: they interviewed on Wednesday and Thursday and published the results immediately. A very short fieldwork period raises issues of representativeness, but they have been in the business for about 40 years now, so let us assume they know what they are doing, shall we? Second, unlike most pollsters, FGW always publishes both raw (but presumably weighted) data (what they call the political mood) and estimates that take into account party identification and other long-term factors (their ’projection’). So far, I have always used the former, but we have reached the point where the forecast becomes the nowcast, and so the only thing we get this time is their projection, which I treat like if they were raw data, using last week numbers of undecided and non-voters (both not very realistic, I suppose).

GSM was in the field from Thursday last week until Wednesday, but because I peg every poll to the mid-point of their fieldwork, their data are three days older than FGW’s for modelling purposes. Things get bit confusing then: Forsa were in the field from September 11 to September 15, and Allensbach even from September 6 to September 14, but then sat on their data. So their findings came out on Tuesday but are less recent than the Insa poll I talked about last time round. In other words: By putting this information in the model, I’m adjusting our estimate of where public opinion was a week ago, which then feeds into my guess where it is right now (or rather where it was two days ago). It’s a good thing that this is almost over.

Countdown

Ok, I succumbed. Couldn’t resist. etc.

The CDU/CSU maintain their lead

spd-union-2017-09-22.png

Support for the Christian Democrats has further declined. The last estimate is 35 per cent [34-37], which would be six points less than in 2013. But the Social Democrats are down, too. The estimate for their current level of support is 22 per cent [21-23], so the CDU/CSU’s lead is still 14 points [12-16].

The FDP bounce remains elusive, and the Greens are weak

greens-fdp-2017-09-22.png

If there is a last-minute rush towards the FDP, it’s not reflected in the polls. But the party (not currently in parliament) is doing well, and much better than a few months ago when it was far from certain that they would return to federal politics. Estimated support for them is 9 per cent[9-10], which puts them ever so slightly ahead of the Greens (8 per cent [7-9].

Is the AfD finally pulling ahead of the Left?

left-afd-2017-09-22.png

After going to great lengths to explain why the race for 3rd place is irrelevant and how the Left is better positioned to win it anyway, the AfD is finally pulling (or rather inching) ahead. The final estimate for their current support is 11 per cent [10-12] (which would be a far cry from the levels of support they enjoyed in 2016), while the Left is put at 10 per cent [9-10]. With the four new polls factored in, the chance of the AfD coming third is now a whopping 96 per cent. The size of their likely lead is a single point [0-2.4].

Overall estimates and coalitions

overall-estimates2017-09-22.png

I (and the pollsters) have been embarrassingly wrong before, but it seems almost impossible that we are not heading for a six-party parliament. It’s also quite clear that there will be no SPD-lead coalition government (unless the SPD could somehow persuade the Greens, the FDP, and the Left to work with them, and even that might not be sufficient). Unless there is a last-minute bounce for the FDP or the Christian Democrats that does not affect the other party (i.e. a shift from the radical to the moderate right), there will be no centre-right governmentjamaica photo

The two most likely outcomes remain a continuation of the Grand Coalition (not necessarily in the best interest of the SPD), or a Jamaica coalition (if the FDP and the CSU and the Greens can work together). Interesting times ahead.

Sep 192017
 

German Elections: Three more polls

We Anoraks are all getting a little jittery here. It’s 134 hours until closing time and there will be only a small handful of polls coming in in the next couple of days, so is there anything new that may be divined from the latest crop, published today (Insa), on Saturday (Emnid), and on Friday (FGW)? Not really. First, the Emnid poll is not new, but new-ish: fieldwork began on September 7, almost a week before Infratest’s (alleged) shock poll. Second, the three polls mostly agree:

Emnid FGW INSA
CDU/CSU 36 36 36
SPD 22 23 22
GREENS 8 8 7
FDP 9 10 9
LEFT 10 9 11
AfD 11 10 11

Third, they are broadly in line with the last (Friday) set of estimates. Of course, that does not mean that the pollsters have it right. It just means that public opinion as measured by the various survey houses seems to be rather stable at the moment.

The Christian Democrats are still leading

Support for the Christian Democrats has been flagging recently, but they still have a solid lead of about 14 points over the Social Democrats. The credible interval for the gap is 13-16 per cent. The current estimate for the Christian Democrats is 37 per cent [36-38], which would make them  the strongest party by far but would also imply a substantial loss compared to their result in the 2013 election (41.5%). The estimate for the SPD is 23 per cent [21-24], which is virtually identical to their worst ever result (in 2009).

The FDP and the Greens seem to be safely in

greens-fdp-2017-09-18.png

Speaking of virtual, it seems virtually impossible that these two minor parties will not clear the electoral hurdle. Then again, look at what happened in 2013. Right now, the FDP is ever so slightly ahead of the Greens, but the enormous attention they are currently getting from the chattering classes is not (yet?) reflected in the polls. Either way, their likely return from the electoral dead would be a significant event in German politics.

The Left and the AfD remain tied

left-afd-2017-09-18.png

Even the Wallstreet Journal is very excited about the idea of the AfD becoming Germany’s “third” party (technically, the CSU is competing for that title, too, but that is a different story). According to the model, however, the chances of the AfD ending up in this position are just 28%. Although predictions of support are almost identical – 9.5% [8.7-10.3] vs 9.7% [8.9-10.5] – the model gives the Left a much better chance (53%) of coming out tops. This is neatly illustrated here:

afd-left-box2017-09-18.png

However, the relevant information (in my view) is still this: we are heading for a six/seven party parliament, with four minor parties of almost equal strength

overall-estimates-2017-09-18.png

Coalitions …

After factoring in the three latest polls, the options remain essentially the same: In all simulations there is a majority for both a Grand Coalition and a Jamaica arrangement. There is also tiny (0.5%) chance of a centre-right (CDU/CSU + FDP) coalition. If the polls are correct, nothing else will work. As I said before: Move on. Not much to see here.

Sep 152017
 

It’s just a single poll

Once more, repeat after me: It’s just a single poll. It’s also the time for horse-race journalism (and for horse-race blogging). In this specific case, the single poll is the most recent instalment of the “Deutschlandtrend”, a survey-series that Infratest-dimap runs for public broadcasting giant ARD. From the results (SPD: 20, AfD: 12), Focus Online has created a lovely headline: SPD in freefall, AfD at highest level of support in seven months. But is there really a story?

Horse-race blogging

Now for the horse-race blogging. Since my last blog (day before yesterday), three new polls have been published. Why bother to start the big and mysterious poll-pooling machine again? Because I can, because in a week or so, there will be no new polls, and because I want to see if there is anything to the Focus story.

First, a closer look at the Infratest-dimap poll, which is clearly the most recent piece of information: field time was only the last two days (September 12-13), and it was published immediately. The other two “new” polls are not really that new. They were in the field from September 8-11 (Insa) and September 4-8 (Forsa) and put the SPD at about 23 per cent and the AfD between 9 and 11 per cent for these slightly earlier time spans. Does that suggest some dramatic movement during the last couple of days? Not really. Infratest-dimap tends to produce somewhat low-ish estimates for the SPD, and rather high estimates for the AfD. The (estimated) house effects are -0.7 and +1.7 points, respectively. The house effects are not calibrated in any way, so Infratest-dimap’s estimates may be perfectly correct, but across all the polls in the model, their estimates for these two parties tend to be below/above average. This is neatly illustrated in the graph:

afd-insa-2017-09-15.png

All Infratest-dimap polls (the hollow circles) put the AfD well above the model-based credible interval, and this one (the rightmost circle) is particularly far away from the envelope. The current credible interval for the AfD is 8.6-10.3%. The AfD’s mini-upward trend may be real, but this poll is probably exaggerating the development.

Infratest-dimap may also underestimate support for the SPD. The model currently puts the SPD between 21.4% and 23.6%. The Infratest-dimap poll (rightmost filled red circle) is well below the credible interval. Things don’t look great, but it’s not “freefall”. The credible interval for the gap between the the SPD and the AfD is 11.6-14.6 points, so the 8 point gap reported by Focus on the basis of a single poll looks like a bit of an over-dramatisation. The AfD is not (yet) catching up with the Social Democrats.

spd-union-2017-09-15.png

 

 

So what?

Will the AfD be Germany’s third party? In the model-based simulations, their chances have gone up from 18% to 39%, but that is still far from certain.In actual fact, according to the model, the Left has a better chance (50%) to become the largest of the minor parties. But that would be a far less dramatic story. And realistically, this is all by the by: the four minor parties enjoy virtually identical levels of support.

overall-estimates-2017-09-15.png

Coalition options are the same as they were three days ago. So what is the bottom line? This last poll (and the other two) make good headlines, but in terms of likely politically relevant outcomes, the situation has not changed at all.

Apr 072017
 

What’s the matter with the AfD?

Over the last couple of weeks, the mainstream media (or as the AfD would have it, the “lying press”) have begun to write off the AfD as past its sell-by day (btw, did you realise that we won the battle against populism when Wilders performed slightly less well than expected after some early polling?). There are basically three reasons for that:

  1. New lows of infighting
  2. The Saarland election
  3. A modest slump in the polls

Let’s look at them in turn.

More infighting in the AfD

I cannot remember how often I have used the phrase “fear and loathing” by now, but hey, it still fits. Frauke Petry and her supporters in the national and state-level leadership are still trying to expel regional leader Björn Höcke over his Holocaust comments. Höcke’s own chapter, however, have just selected him as a delegate for the upcoming party conference. Within her own chapter, Petry is under pressure because she is seen as a) too moderate and b) too obsessed within her own agenda. Just yesterday, the Stern magazine leaked a draft resolution for the party conference which aims at re-defining the AfD as a “moderate”, “civic” outfit that would in principle form coalitions with other parties. This is particularly funny once you remember that this is exactly what Petry’s predecessor Lucke had in mind before Petry ousted him with a little help from the less-than-moderate elements in the party. And the list goes on …

What about the Saarland election?

In the election for the Saarland state parliament, the AfD won six per cent of the vote, which is a bit of a comedown after the party’s performances in the last round of state elections in 2016. The media read this as an omen for the Bundestagswahl in September, which is nonsense for a number of reasons: First, the AfD tends to do better in the eastern states. Second, and more importantly, state elections tend to be affected by federal politics, but only up to a point: first and foremost, they are regional affairs. In the case of the Saarland, this means (amongst many other things) that the regional chapter of the AfD is so closely enmeshed with right-wing extremists that the national leadership tried to disband the chapter only last year.

Yes, you read that right. The move was blocked by the AfD’s highest internal court, which ruled that the evidence against the chapter was insufficient. The national leadership then asked the state party to clean up their act and not to take part in the election. The state party declined that request. Their frontrunner candidate was caught on camera selling Nazi devotionalia in his shop only weeks before the election. And they still got six per cent of the vote in a high turnout election. Not too shabby, I would think.

What do the polls say?

How strong is the AfD? Depends on whom you ask

Repeat after me: “It’s just a single poll” … which is not entirely true any more. The last nine days have brought the same number of new polls (pushing the total to 51), the last of which seem to indicate a further slump of AfD support. Just today, FGW published findings from another Politbarometer survey, which has the AfD at six per cent (that’s the mood, i.e. weighed but not otherwise adjusted data), even worse than the seven per cent Forsa gave them after the Saarland election. Even INSA, who are always rather bullish on the AfD, reported a mere nine per cent support on Monday. But another Forsa poll as well as an Emnid poll which both gave the AfD nine per cent again went largely unnoticed. And FGW always generates huge negative outliers (which still might represent public opinion accurately) when it comes to the AfD. My model, which aims at factoring in these things, currently puts them at eight per cent – definitely less support than they had in January, but sufficiently far away from the electoral threshold

afd-insa-2017-04-07.png

For all purposes and intents, the Left and the AfD are currently indistinguishable.

left-afd-2017-04-07.png

But the same can not be said for the FDP. For the first time since I began pooling the polls in January and less than six months before the election, support for the FDP may have fallen below the electoral threshold. As of Wednesday (the mathematical midpoint of the FGW poll), the estimated probability of the FDP having exactly five per cent support or more was 64 per cent. As one of the great political philosophers of our time is apt to say: SAD. Losers?

greens-fdp-2017-04-07.png

Support for the Greens, on the other hand, is lower than it was in January but has been stable at this level for the last two months.spd-union-2017-04-07.png

And finally, the major parties. According to their political preferences, the media have variously reported an ongoing Schulz effect, the Christian democrats catching up with the SPD, or Merkel pulling far ahead. The latest polls seem to support any of these views. They look rather noisy, and estimated levels of support are still overlapping: the Christian democrats could be anywhere between one point behind or five points ahead of the SPD.

In sum, the overall estimates have not changed much over the last two weeks. The two major parties are more or less neck-on-neck, with the CDU/CSU still struggling to re-establish a clear lead. The AfD, Left, and Greens are all well below ten and well above five per cent. The only relevant change is that the FDP has slipped back a bit, which brings them perilously close to the electoral threshold.

overall-estimates-2017-04-07.png

This, in turn, rules out a “civic” coalition: in 60,000 simulated draws from the posterior, not a single one indicated that on current levels of polling, the FDP and the Christian Democrats could be able to form a government. Neither is there a red-green majority. A red-red-green coalition (vastly unpopular with most voters) is a mathematical possibility in 63% of all draws. Unsurprisingly, it becomes much more likely (99%) if the FDP is out. A “Jamaica” coalition (FDP, Greens, Christian Democrats) is not even mathematically likely (11%), and the odds for a “Trafficlight” coalition (FDP, Greens, SPD) are even worse (2%). On the other hand, unless the AfD makes a massive recovery, there is no chance that a Grand Coalition would not have a crushing majority. Watch this space

Mar 292017
 

The other day, someone on twitter suggested that the polls on the upper margins of my latest model-based estimates of AfD support were conducted by the “notoriously AfD-friendly INSA company”.

This view is not uncommon in Germany. INSA, who do polling for Germany’s premier tabloid Bild, want to prop up support for the AfD via a band waggon effect, because there is an alleged business and ideological link between their CEO and the AfD’s notorious Thuringia chapter (in German) – or so the story goes. A more innocent explanation is that INSA polls are based on internet access panels, and that the AfD is probably the most internet-savy party in Germany and hence overly popular with heavy users.

But is there any evidence of overreporting? As you can see here, INSA’s average estimate of AfD support is just one percentage point above the grand mean of all measurements – not such a huge difference. Also, they have only contributed seven polls to the total pool of 43 major polls whose results have been published since January.

Pollster n  AfD % (average)
Allensbach 2 10
Dimamp 6 12
Emnid 11 10
Forsa 11 10
GMS 2 10
INSA 7 11
Poba 4 7
All 43 10

And perhaps these polls were conducted earlier in the year, before the model suggested that the AfD’s support fell by a couple of points? But no, this is not the case. INSA polling goes back until the first week of February. (In fact, there are even some INSA polls from January, which are not in the database because of a glitch in the script that I use to pull the data from the interwebs.) More importantly, each and every of the seven INSA polls is well above the credible interval around the model-based estimate:

afd-insa-2017-03-29.png

So yes, INSA’s readings of AfD support are clearly unusually positive. But so are the Dimap polls, whereas FGW (Poba) are taking a distinctly bearish view.

Avid readers will remember that the model tries to account for party-specific house effects, under the overly optimistic assumption that these sum to zero across all firms. Given the small overall number of polls, and given that Allensbach and GMS have only published two polls each so far, I wouldn’t trust these estimates too far, but just for fun I’ve pulled them out of the mountain of simulated draws. According to the model, INSA overreports AfD support by 2 points (CI 1.5-2.6), Dimap by 1.8 points (CI 1.1-2.5), whereas FGW underreports AfD support by 2.5 points (CI -3.2-1.8). It will be interesting to see how the numbers develop over the coming months, and whether these estimates will square with the actual result. For the time being, take them with an appropriately large dose of salt.

Mar 152017
 

Almost exactly four years ago, the “Alternative für Deutschland” party (AfD) began its life as a moderately eurosceptic outfit that brought together right-wingers of various stripes. Even back in 2014, the party did not qualify as radical right-wing populist. Quite to the contrary: The leadership went to great lengths to present a “civic” front of professors, business persons, and concerned citizens. However, their 2015 de facto split was a critical juncture in the young party’s history. The part’s most prominent face, economist and former CDU member Bernd Lucke, and many of his supporters left the party.

The AfD’s central command is very active on Facebook, and so a quantitative analysis of their posts is a reasonable means for tracking their ideological trajectory. For a presentation I gave last week, I have updated and somewhat streamlined my 2015 analysis of their social media activities. I’m only looking at posts by the AfD on their own (federal) fan page. Over the last four years, the party has accumulated no less than 3482 of them. Their text is lightly normalised and stemmed, and I’m looking for substrings pertaining to four issues: Europe and the Euro, Greece, Islam/Muslims, and Migration/Refugees. Obviously, a post can refer to two or more of these issues, so the numbers may sum up to more than 100%. The result is this:

issues.png

It’s quite clear that in 2013 and early 2014 (think European elections), a large chunk of their posts made reference to the Euro, the EU, and so forth. In the first half of 2015, Greece (remember the long nights and that funny finance minister) and Euroscepticism were back on the agenda. But when the economic liberals left the AfD around June and the refugees emerged as a dominant issue in European politics later that year, Greece was forgotten. In 2016, the AfD was all about migrants, refugees, and Muslims. I really need to find the time to dig deeper into this.