Nov 292019
 
A vast majority of Germans sees the AfD as a right-wing extremist party

For the radical right in Europe, Alternative for Germany is an increasingly unusual case

In a recent paper published in JCMS, I argue that unlike other German far-right parties, the “Alternative for Germany party” (AfD) managed to avoid being associated with Nazism. The strong presence of establishment figures that previously were (or could have been) members of centre-right parties acted as what Elisabeth Ivarsflaten has once called a “reputational shield“. Without such a shield, a party will be branded “fringe” or extremist, and many voters will be reluctant to support it. Also, such parties will find it difficult to recruit competent and presentable would-be politicians – an argument that David Art makes and illustrates in his fabulous study of radical right party activists.

In the JCMS paper, I also look at the trajectory of the Alternative for Germany. The AfD started out as a socially conservative/market radical “professors’ party”, then, within just two years, developed into a (mostly) bog-standard Western European radical right party. What sets the “Alternative” apart from similar parties in Western Europe, however, is its desperate flirt with traditional German right-wing extremism.

Back to the future?

The Front National (now the Rassemblement) recently expelled its founder and long-time leader Jean-Marie Le Pen because the old man would not stop talking about the Holocaust. The Sweden Democrats gave up the uniforms, then had a real purge of the old guard. Other parties like the PVV never had any connection to the old inter-war Extreme Right. And this looked like the way forward for the last couple of decades or so.

In the AfD, regional leader Björn Höcke can publicly trot out racist tropesattack the culture of remembrance and use rhetoric and ideas straight from the 1930s playbook without getting as much as a slap on the wrist. Regional leader Andreas Kalbitz was a member of various right-wing extremist groups and the former “Republican” party. Kalbitz also attended a Greek Neo-Nazi rally in Athens and a festival for Fascists and Neo-Nazis in Belgium. Not a problem. National leader Alexander Gauland, who infamously called the rule of the Nazis “a spot of bird shit” in an otherwise glorious history, thinks that Höcke is “right in the middle” of the party, and that Kalbitz is a “good man”.

 

80 per cent of Germans are suspicious of the AfD

In the JCMS paper, I suggest that this trajectory, which is fueled by electoral successes in the East and intra-party outbidding for the most outrageous positions, could not just bring legal problems (the offices for the protection of the constitution seem to be set to heighten their scrutiny of the AfD) but also undermine its electoral appeal in the medium term. Lo and behold: in a (very rare) instance of not being completely out of touch with reality, I may have gauged the public mood just right. Today’s Politbarometer poll asked citizens how far right-wing extremist ideas have spread within the AfD. A cool 41 per cent said “far”, and further 39 per cent said “very far”. For comparison, 15 per cent thought these ideas have spread “not very far”, and just two (two!) per cent said that right-wing extremism within the party did not exist. In other words: 80 per cent see Alternative for Germany as a right-wing extremist party.

80 per cent believe right-wing extremists are have spread far or very far within the Alternative for Germany

This dovetails neatly with slightly older polls which show that notwithstanding its national electoral support of 10 to 15 per cent, the AfD is by far the least popular party in Germany. About 80 per cent of voters would never consider voting for them. So far, the main result of the AfD’s ongoing radicalisation is not a collapse of its support, but rather a segmentation of the German party system. If you want to see the future of Germany, look to Flanders (minus the excellent fatty food, the quirky beers, and, well minus Belgium).

Nov 182019
 

Happy to report that I made it to no. 53 on this totally scientific and utterly unbiased list of “Top 100 Political Science Blogs“. Presumably, because there are so few of us left. But anyways, if you are still reading blogs, take a look: there are a lot of interesting items on this list.

 

Nov 052019
 

When former leader Frauke Petry left the AfD after the 2017 federal election, she kept her seats in the Bundestag and in Saxony’s regional parliament. These seats were meant to form the base for a new movement/party she quickly set up with friends and family.

The Blue Party is over

Image source: Wikipedia

The “Blue Party” was supposed to become a sort of respectable radical right party: a potential coalition partner for the Christian Democrats and an alternative to the Alternative for Germany that was veering to the right. To put it in github terms: like her predecessor Lucke, whom she had de facto ousted, Petry tried to fork a previous iteration of the original AfD project.

And like Lucke (and Poggenburg), she failed. In the EP 2019 election (where they might have stood a chance because there was no electoral threshold) they could not run because they failed to collect the required number of supporting signatures. In the Saxony (Petry’s home state), they won 0.4 per cent of the vote in the September election. Ten days ago, they won 0.1 per cent in the Thuringia election.

This weekend, the Blues have pulled the plug: they will shut down the party before the end of the year. Petry will continue to sit as an independent until 2021 and plans to end her political career there and then.

The bigger story here is of course that for the first time since the 1960s, the German radical/extreme right is electorally united. The NPD (which had gobbled up the DVU) is in tatters. The AfD breakaways are toast. Everything else are just sects. That is one scary perspective.

Oct 272019
 

LEFT30.4%
AfD23.5%
CDU22.1%
SPD8.1%
GREENS5.1%
FDP5.1%

Source: FGW projection, 8:10pm

Why waste my life writing lengthy books that no-one is going to read? Why go through the pain of peer review? Why, in fact, wait for the actual election results to come in? So here is my list on hot takes on the Thuringia state election.

  1. Everyone is talking about the AfD, but the real story of this election is the Left. Bodo Ramelow was the first member of the Left to become Minister President of a federal state. His red-red-green coalition was defeated, but only because his partners lost electoral support. The Left’s vote share actually increased a bit so that for the first time since 1990, the Left has become the strongest party in a Land election. Ramelow himself is even more popular than his party and may be able to continue, either as a caretaker/minority Minister President or at the helm of some new (and very complicated) coalition.
  2. Single-digit SPD results are almost normal now. The SPD has always struggled in Thuringia. Now, the SPD has once more dipped into single-digit territory (after Bavaria and Saxony). A few years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Now, it’s not really a huge surprise.
  3. Germany is not yet the Netherlands, but we are getting there. Journalists and pundits still talk about the “Volksparteien” – the CDU/CSU-SPD duopoly – as if this were the normal state of affairs in Germany. But it seems unlikely that were are going back to a two-dominant-and-some-minor-parties arrangement any time soon. If the FDP makes it past the electoral threshold, there will be six parties in the new state parliament. Just like in the Bundestag, the Bavarian state parliament, and the Landtag in Brandenburg, to name a few. For the time being, fragmentation and volatility are the new normal.
  4. The Green Wave has not reached Thuringia. Nationwide, the Greens are still the second party and poll between 20 and 25 per cent. They have made some inroads in the eastern states, where they have struggled for most of the last three decades. Opinion polls looked moderately good for them, but in reality, they came dangerously close to the threshold. In fact, it is still not clear whether they will make into parliament. This does not mean that the wave has ended today. Thuringia is a small state that is in no way representative and was always a difficult arena for them (think lots of wood and history, few universities/cities).
  5. The most extreme flavour of the AfD remains popular in the (south-)east. It’s not a secret that the AfD is much stronger in the eastern states than they are in the west. Currently, a result in the 20s seems to be normal in the southern part of the former GDR, with some pockets were they go even beyond 30 per cent. The result in Thuringia is well within that range. The interesting point is that the AfD in Thuringia is led by a man who pushes the envelope of being a right-wing populist, a man whose rhetoric, policies and associates are more in line with traditional German right-wing extremism. Höcke has voiced support for rank-and-file members of the NPD when the AfD was still a polite bunch of Eurosceptics. He has spread racist tropes about Africans, has marched with Neo-Nazis and campaigned for a U-turn in Germany’s approach to its traumatic past. He infamously called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame in the heart of our capital”. And yet, only days after a Christchurch-style attack on a synagogue, Höcke’s AfD won about a quarter of the vote. Some may have cast their vote in spite of him (he was not exactly popular in pre-election surveys), but at least fraction must have known what they were doing. Which is a very scary notion.

Sep 212019
 

The ‘Institut für Staatspolitik’ is a well-known far-right ‘think tank’. Their self-stated meta-political mission is to educate the future nationalist. The long-term objective is to achieve a stealthy transformation of German society. They have been around for a while, and there are books and chapters about them, written by people who study right-wing extremism for a living.

Their head honcho is one Götz Kubitschek, a prominent right-wing publisher who is well connected within the more intellectual sector of the larger right-wing extremist movement. He is an associate of Björn Höcke, who in turn leads the right-most faction within the AfD.

Höcke says that he comes to the Institute to dose up on ‘intellectual sustenance’ (yes, that’s how he rolls). It was at the Institute that Höcke gave a speech in which he claimed that Africans were, quite literally, ‘a different breed’ – one of many statements that, amazingly, did not end his political career.

Alice Weidel is the co-leader of the AfD group in the Bundestag. Weidel used to be one of those legendary ‘economic liberals’. Most of whom left the party in 2015. In this role, she wanted Höcke expelled from the AfD for his outrageous statements as late as 2017.

Now Weidel followed the example of her co-leader Gauland by speaking at the Institute‘s ‘academy’ for future leaders. Rumour has it that Kubitschek brokered an agreement between Höcke and Weidel. In a video that is making the rounds she tells Kubitschek that ‘it feels great’ to be there. Once more, move on: nothing to see here.

Sep 012019
 
Regional support (district level) for the AfD in the EP 2019 election

Today’s elections in Brandenburg & Saxony are sending a new set of shock waves through German politics. Here are some quick thoughts.

  1. The AfD polled about 28 per cent in Saxony, their best result yet. Saxony is truly the AfD’s heartland.
  2. The AfD did also well in Brandenburg. In both states, they are led and dominated by members of the “Flügel”, the most radical faction within an increasingly radical party. When the eastern states voted five years ago, it was not even clear that they were radical populists. Now, the links to right-wing extremist organisations and policies are becoming clearer and clearer
  3. Recall-question based models of voter flows are the work of the devil. But the estimates published by the big pollsters suggest that like in 2016, the AfD managed to mobilise a very large number of former no-voters ans hence benefitted from the massive increase in turnout. So that’s democracy at work, I guess.
  4. Even in their heartland, the AfD topped out below 30 per cent. I have zero hard evidence / strong theory for that, empirically, that seems to be about the maximum that these parties can achieve in Western Europe.
  5. Accordingly, they should not get more than a quarter of the total attention. So here is the other, totally underreported story of this election: for the Greens, the German East used to be a wasteland. But now they are in double digit territory and might well end up in government in both states.
  6. The SPD, on the other hand, made it barely beyond the threshold in Saxony. For once, I’m lost for words.
  7. The Left, formerly the eastern party, has also lost big in both states. And yet, if one counts the left parties as a bloc, there seems to be a left majority in Brandenburg that may form a coalition.
  8. In terms of electoral behaviour, the overall story is one of fragmentation and volatility. And for once, the East is the avant-garde: this is where Germany as a whole is headed.
  9. And yet in both states, the parties that have dominated them for the last three decades, the SPD in Brandenburg and the CDU in Saxony, came out top. Their support is much reduced and this might be their respective last hurrah, but still.
May 262019
 
Results of the EP 2019 in Germany (exit polls as of 7pm)

Results of the EP 2019 in Germany (exit polls as of 7pm)

It will take some time to get nearly-final results for Germany, let alone for the EU, but the picture emerging from the exit polls in Germany is reasonably clear. So, in time honoured tradition, here are my hot takes:

  1. News of a far-right takeover were exaggerated, to say the least. The only relevant Eurosceptic party, the radical right AfD, performed a the lower band of expectations. While their vote share increased by three percentage points compared to 2014, they remained two points below their result in the 2017 Bundestag election. Given the EP elections are supposed to be second-order contests in which Eurosceptics in general and righ-wingers in particular vent their anger, this is really a bit embarrassing. Journalists will pin it on Ibiza-Gate, but the declining salience of migration, their string of funding scandals and last not least the AfD’s veering to the right that puts off more moderate voters are better explanations.
  2. Left-libertarian, pro-European views can be a vote winner. The Greens, who dared to propose “more Europe” and who put two prominent sitting MEPs on top of their list that, for want of a better word, could be described as “critical left”, doubled their vote share, winning as many votes as the two more traditional parties on the left combined.
  3. Multi-partyism is doing well in Germany. The party system may look more fragmented than it would in a federal contest because there is no threshold in place, but the drop is massive: in 2009, the two historically big parties CDU/CSU and SPD had a combined vote share of nearly 59 per cent. In 2014, this number was even higher at 63 per cent. Now we are looking at something in the range of 44 per cent. There also seems to be a massive increase in votes for “other” parties, but I have no details on this yet.
  4. It sucks to be a Social Democrat. The Christian Democrats are not doing terribly well, but they managed to remain the strongest parties by quite a margin. The SPD on the other hand have dropped well below a result of 20 per cent that was rightfully seen as disappointing in 2009 (in 2014, they clearly benefited from Martin Schulz being the leading candidate for the S+D). I know I keep banging on about this, but the result neatly illustrates the argument that Kitschelt made 25 years ago: Social Democrats are fighting a losing battle against New Left parties on the one hand and New Right parties on the other. At least in the German case, they are also competing with the Christian Democrats. It will be interesting to see to what degree this pattern applies to other countries, too.