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.

Feb 052018
 

Update February 5, 2018

In March 2017, I posted a graph which shows how the AfD’s Facebook posts moved away from euroscepticism and Greece-bashing towards immigration and Islamophobia. But trends can change, and local regression smoothers have a habit of behaving strangely at the borders. So I downloaded another year’s worth of Facebook posts and reran the scripts:

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the new graph confirms for 2017 what we have seen for 2016: Muslims and immigrants are all the rage, whereas the Euro crisis is so 2014. I leave the old graph/post below as is for comparison.

Continue reading »

Jan 022018
 

Personal blogs are so 1990s, yes?

This is not the late 1990s. Hey, it’s not even the early Naughties, and has not been for a while. I have had my own tiny corner of the Internet (then hosted on university Web space as it was the norm in the day) since Mosaic came under pressure from Netscape and the NYT experimented with releasing content as (I kid you not) postscript files, because PDF was not invented yet. I did this mostly because I liked computers, because it was new, and because it provided an excellent distraction from the things I should have been doing. By and large, not much changes over 25 years.

Photo by karimian

Later (that was before German universities had repositories or policies for such things), my webspace became a useful resource for teaching-related material. Reluctantly and with a certain resentment, I have copied slides and handouts from one site to the next, adding layers of disclaimers instead of leaving them behind, because some of this stuff carries hundreds of decade-old backlinks and gets downloaded / viewed dozens of times each day.

And of course, I started posting pre-publication versions of my papers, boldly ignoring / blissfully ignorant of the legal muddle surrounding the issue back in the day. Call me old fashioned, but making research visible and accessible is was the Web was invented for.

In summer 2008, I set up my own domain on a woefully underpowered shared webspace (since replaced by an underpowered virtual server). A bit earlier in the same year, already late to the party, I had started my own “Weblog” on wordpress.com, writing and ranting about science, politics, methods, and all that. A year down the road, I converted www.kai-arzheimer.com to wordpress, moved my blog over there, and have never looked back continously wondered why I kept doing this.

Why keep blogging?

In those days of old, we had trackbacks and pingbacks & stuff (now a distant memory), and social media was the idea of having a network of interlinking personal blogs, whose authors would comment on each other’s posts. Even back in 2008 on wordpress, my blog was not terribly popular, but for a couple of years, there was a bunch of people who had similar interests, with whom I would interact occasionally.

Then, academically minded multi-author blogs came along, which greatly reduced fragmentation and aimed at making social science accessible for a much bigger audience whilst removing the need to set up and maintain a site. For similar reasons, Facebook and particularly Twitter became perfect outlets for ranting “microblogging”, while Medium bypasses the fragmentation issue for longer texts and is far more aesthetically pleasing and faster than anything any of us could run by ourselves.

Photo by kjarrett

It is therefore only rational that many personal academic blogs died a slow death. People I used to read left Academia completely, gave up blogging, or moved on to the newer platforms. Do you remember blogrolls? No, you wouldn’t. Because I’m a dinosaur, I still get my news through an RSS reader (and you should, too). While there are a few exceptions (Chris Blattman and Andrew Gelman spring to mind), most of the sources in my “blog” drawer are run by collectives / institutions (the many LSE blogs, the Monkey Cage, the Duck etc.). I recently learned that I made it into an only slightly dubious looking list of the top 100 political science blogs, but that is surely because there are not many individual political science bloggers left.
So why am I still rambling in this empty Platonic man-cave? Off the top of my head, I can think of about five reasons:

  1. Total editorial control. I have written for the Monkey Cage, The Conversation, the LSE, and many other outlets. Working with their editors has made my texts much better, but sometimes I am not in the mood for clarity and accessibility. I want to rant, and be quick about it.
  2. Pre-prints. I like to have pre-publication versions of my work on my site, although again, institutional hosting makes much more sense. Once I upload them, I’m usually so happy that I want to say something about it.
  3. For me, my blog is still a bit like an open journal. If I need to remember some sequence of events in German or European politics for the day job, it’s helpful if I have blogged about it as it happened. Similarly, sometimes I work out the solution to some software issue but quickly forget the details. Five months later, a blog post is a handy reference and may help others.
  4. Irrelevance. Often, something annoys or interests me so much that I need to write a short piece about it, although few other people will care. I would have a better chance of being of finding an audience at Medium, but then again on my own wordpress-powered site, I have a perfectly serviceable CME which happens to have blogging functionality built in.
  5. Ease of use. I do almost all of my writing in Emacs and keep (almost) all my notes in orgmode code. Thanks to org2blog, turning a few paragraphs into a post is just some hard-to-remember key strokes away.

Bonus track: the five most popular posts in 2017

As everyone knows, I’m not obsessed with numbers, thank you very much. I keep switching between various types of analytic software and have no idea how much (or rather little) of an audience I actually have. Right now I’m back to the basic wordpress statistics and have been for over a year, so here is the list of the five posts that were the most popular in 2017.

Photo by diff_sky

Dec 302017
 

Women don’t like the AfD (and why would they?)

The AfD is not particularly attractive for women. Survey data suggest that only one in three AfD voters is a woman. The new national executive has 14 memebers. Just two are of the female persuasion. This amounts to a cool 14%, even less than the female share of the AfD’s total membership (16%). The share of female AfD MPs in the new Bundestag is yet again lower at just over ten per cent, half of the already very low figures for the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.

This is hardly surprising. While some Radical Right parties in Western Europe parties at least aim to give the impression that they have modernised their stances on gender politics (cf the Netherlands, Norway), the AfD’s radicalisation over the last three years has brought them closer to traditional right-wing positions (see e.g. Jasmin Siri’s work on this), or perhaps these positions have become more visible.

Sex and loathing

Two “cheeky” 2017 campaign posters marked a new low on this front. One showed the behinds of a pair of scantily clad young women who allegedly “preferred Bikinis over Burqas“, the other used a picture of a massive baby bump to cajole Germans into “making new Germans instead of relying on immigration” (incidentally, the belly in question came from a stock photo of a Brazilian model).

This is the cutesy version of Höcke’s rambling about the “expansive African fertility type” that threatens to take over Germany. The obsession with the number of pure-blooded German babies and the means of their production, the Muslim as a sexual predator, the fear (and envy?) of the hyper-sexual Black that will take away our blonde daughters, wifes, and mistresses – the nice middle class veneer over the familiar right-wing extremist tropes is wearing pretty thin.

Female Facebook Friends

The AfD does not have an officially recognised women’s organisation. But a couple of weeks ago, Christiane Christen (the AfD deputy leader in Rhineland-Palatinate) and Janin Klatt-Eberle, a rank-and-file member from Saxony, have set up a Facebook community called “AfD-politics for women“. So far, some 600 people have liked it.

The page is not meant to co-ordinate or strengthen the positions of women within the AfD (where did that thought come from?). Its mission statement says that it will serve “to explain the AfD’s policies with respect to us women”, because the AfD is the only party that defends liberty and security for women. Hm.

The posts far, are what you would expect. They exploit the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne in 2015 and a recent jealousy killing where the perpetrator was a youth from Afghanistan and the victim an equally young German girl. They are similar to what can be found on the AfD’s official channels, but executed in a much more amateurish way. What really surprised me, however, even giving that level of amateurishness, was their logo, a – variation? – on the party’s official and already awkward design. This 👇

In my book, this beggars belief, so I preserve it for posterity here before they change it. I’m old enough to qualify as a dirty old man, so I just summarise the gist of the comments on the page:

  1. No money for a designer? Seriously?
  2. Pitch-perfect illustration of the party’s gender politics
  3. This must be a satirical page.

It’s not. It’s real.

Bonus track, because it is almost 2018: Link to one of my favourite older posts on a related subject.

Dec 032017
 

At today’s AfD conference, Jörg Meuthen has been reelected as one of the the two co-chairs of the party. Although there was no other candidate, he garnered only 72% “yes” votes. Meuthen was once promoted by Petry because of his convenient market liberal profile, but quickly became friendly with the more radical elements.

The election of the second co-chair was a more interesting affair. Apparently, the leadership had agreed that Georg Pazderski (leader of the Berlin chapter), an alleged moderate and pragmatist, should get the job. But at the conference, a surprise competitor emerged: Doris von Sayn-Wittgenstein, party chair in Schleswig-Holstein, who had only joined the party when it began to radicalise after Lucke’s departure as leader and vehemently opposes any rapprochement with the powers that be. In two ballots, the vote was split almost equally between the two, but neither reached the 50% quorum.

After a break, both withdrew their candidacy, and Alexander Gauland, eminence grise and leader of the the AfD’s parliamentary Party emerged as the new and only candidate. He received a mere 68% “yes” votes. Gauland is an interesting figure. Once a long-term CDU member and career Beamter in Hesse, he became a conservative newspaper editor and then one of the founding members of the AfD.

Late in life (he is in his mid-70s), he turned out to be a populist who regularly toys with Islamophobia and racism. He has repeatedly used his considerable influence within the party to defend Höcke and his cronies. He has also repeatedly ruled out that he could become party leader, citing his poor health and advanced age. Now his double role makes him arguably the most powerful (co-) leader the AfD has ever had. While Pazderski’s defeat and the poor results for Meuthen and Gauland highlight the fault lines within the AfD, Gauland’s rise to the two top offices is further evidence for the growing influence of the party’s ultra right.

Rechts photo

Nov 292017
 

After Frauke Petry, herself not exactly a centrist by conventional standards, has left the party, the rightmost factions in the AfD are becoming even more influential (or perhaps just more visible). The party will elect a new leadership this coming weekend, and Andre Poggenburg will stand as a candidate for deputy party leader. Poggenburg, who leads the Saxony-Anhalt chapter of the party, is a friend and political ally of Björn Höcke, the most prominent representative of the ultra-right within the AfD. In the past, under both Lucke and Petry, the national executive has made several unsuccessful attempts to kick Höcke out of the party over his various racist and anti-semitic statements.

Speaking of anti-semitism, documents have surfaced a couple of days ago that incriminate Peter Felsen, deputy head of the AfD’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag. Felser and his company were involved in the production of campaign videos for the “Republikaner” party back when they still mattered. Broadcasters refused to air these videos (German parties get an allocation of free airtime) because of their inciting content, and the courts confirmed that their content “minimised, denied, and justified” the Holocaust. Felsen does not deny the allegations but says that he regrets the whole thing.

Meanwhile in Saxony, Petry’s erstwhile home state, the regional leadership has stopped a similar bid to throw out Jens Maier, over similarly controversial remarks. Maier, who is a judge, has publicly spoken out against what he calls “the cult of guilt” (right-wing extremist parlance for publicly remembering the Holocaust) and the “creation of mixed races”. He is also on the record for claiming that Anders “Breivik became a mass murderer out of pure desparation”. Amongst us anoraks, Maier came national prominence when he granted the NPD an injunction against colleague Steffen Kailitz, who was banned for a while from repeating statements he had made when he gave testimony against the NPD in the Constitutional Court. Maier also likes to call himself “little Höcke”.

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.