This is the author’s version of the work. Please cite as:

Arzheimer, Kai. “The electoral breakthrough of the AfD and the east-west cleavage in German politics.” From the streets to parliament? The fourth wave of far-right politics in Germany. Ed. Weisskircher, Manes. Routledge, 2021. .
[BibTeX] [Abstract]

The radical right became a relevant party family in most west European polities in the 1990s and early 2000s, but Germany was a negative outlier up until very recently. Right-wing mobilisation success remained confinded to the local and regional level, as previous far-right parties never managed to escape from the shadow of “Grandpa’s Fascism”. This only changed with the rise, electoral breakthrough, and transformation of “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), which quickly became the dominant far-right actor. Germany’s “new” eastern states were crucial for the AfD’s ascendancy. In the east, the AfD began to experiment with nativist messages as early as 2014. Their electoral breakthroughs in the state elections of this year helped sustain the party through the wilderness year of 2015 and provided personel, ressources, and a template for the AfD’s transformation. Since its inception, support for the AfD in the east has been at least twice as high as in the west. This can be fully explained by substantively higher levels of nativist attitudes in the eastern population. As all alleged causes of this nativism are structural, the eastern states seem set to remain a stronghold for the far right in the medium- to long-term.

@InCollection{arzheimer-2021,
author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
title = {The electoral breakthrough of the AfD and the east-west cleavage in
German politics},
booktitle = {From the streets to parliament? The fourth wave of far-right
politics in Germany},
publisher = {Routledge},
year = 2021,
editor = {Weisskircher, Manes},
abstract = {The radical right became a relevant party family in most west
European polities in the 1990s and early 2000s, but Germany was a
negative outlier up until very recently. Right-wing mobilisation
success remained confinded to the local and regional level, as
previous far-right parties never managed to escape from the shadow
of "Grandpa's Fascism". This only changed with the rise, electoral
breakthrough, and transformation of "Alternative for Germany"
(AfD), which quickly became the dominant far-right actor. Germany’s
"new" eastern states were crucial for the AfD’s ascendancy. In the
east, the AfD began to experiment with nativist messages as early
as 2014. Their electoral breakthroughs in the state elections of
this year helped sustain the party through the wilderness year of
2015 and provided personel, ressources, and a template for the
AfD’s transformation. Since its inception, support for the AfD in
the east has been at least twice as high as in the west. This can
be fully explained by substantively higher levels of nativist
attitudes in the eastern population. As all alleged causes of this
nativism are structural, the eastern states seem set to remain a
stronghold for the far right in the medium- to long-term.},
}

# 1. Introduction

Since the early 1990s, the radical right has become a relevant party family in most West European polities including many of Germany’s neighbours such as Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Denmark, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. For decades, Germany remained a negative outlier. Parties like the DVU, the NPD, and the Republicans had some success at the local and regional level but never managed to escape from the shadow of “Grandpa’s Fascism”. This only changed with the rise, transformation and electoral breakthrough of “Alternative for Germany”, or AfD for short, a new party that was founded in 2013. Within a span of just over three years, the AfD established itself as the predominant political actor on the far right.

In this chapter, I will briefly review the previous attempts to establish a modern radical right party in Germany. I will then present a sketch of the AfD’s 2013-2020 trajectory, highlighting the critical junctures and the specific relevance of eastern party structures and electoral successes. While I argue that the AfD is the first successful modern far-right party in post-war Germany, it is also important to highlight its many personal, organisational and ideological ties to other far right actors, and how these have affected the rise of the party. Finally, the chapter will specifically look at broad attitudinal differences between eastern and western states and their importance for the ascendancy and the sustained electoral support of the AfD.

Throughout this chapter, I rely on Mudde’s (ch. Mudde 2007, 1) useful distinction between radical and extremist far-right actors. Both combine authoritarian tendencies with nativism, a world view that denotes a “combination of xenophobia and nationalism”. Ultimately, nativism is the idea that nonnative elements (persons and ideas) are fundamentally threatening to the homogeneous nation-state (Mudde 2007, 19).

Right-wing extremists want a regime change. They strive to replace the democratic order with some autocratic system. Conversely, radical right actors shy away from open attacks on democracy itself and may even claim to be democracy’s true defenders. This is particularly true for actors that also espouse populism: a “thin ideology” that pits the pure people against a corrupt elite and reduces democracy to the rule of a majority that is unfettered by minority rights and liberals institutions such as courts and parliaments (Mudde 2007, 21–23).

If you are reading this, you will also interested in my other publications on the party, including an update that traces the transformation of the Alternative for Germany and its voters, 2013-2017:
• Arzheimer, Kai. “The electoral breakthrough of the AfD and the east-west cleavage in German politics.” From the streets to parliament? The fourth wave of far-right politics in Germany. Ed. Weisskircher, Manes. Routledge, 2021. .
[BibTeX] [Abstract]

The radical right became a relevant party family in most west European polities in the 1990s and early 2000s, but Germany was a negative outlier up until very recently. Right-wing mobilisation success remained confinded to the local and regional level, as previous far-right parties never managed to escape from the shadow of “Grandpa’s Fascism”. This only changed with the rise, electoral breakthrough, and transformation of “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), which quickly became the dominant far-right actor. Germany’s “new” eastern states were crucial for the AfD’s ascendancy. In the east, the AfD began to experiment with nativist messages as early as 2014. Their electoral breakthroughs in the state elections of this year helped sustain the party through the wilderness year of 2015 and provided personel, ressources, and a template for the AfD’s transformation. Since its inception, support for the AfD in the east has been at least twice as high as in the west. This can be fully explained by substantively higher levels of nativist attitudes in the eastern population. As all alleged causes of this nativism are structural, the eastern states seem set to remain a stronghold for the far right in the medium- to long-term.

@InCollection{arzheimer-2021,
author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
title = {The electoral breakthrough of the AfD and the east-west cleavage in
German politics},
booktitle = {From the streets to parliament? The fourth wave of far-right
politics in Germany},
publisher = {Routledge},
year = 2021,
editor = {Weisskircher, Manes},
abstract = {The radical right became a relevant party family in most west
European polities in the 1990s and early 2000s, but Germany was a
negative outlier up until very recently. Right-wing mobilisation
success remained confinded to the local and regional level, as
previous far-right parties never managed to escape from the shadow
of "Grandpa's Fascism". This only changed with the rise, electoral
breakthrough, and transformation of "Alternative for Germany"
(AfD), which quickly became the dominant far-right actor. Germany’s
"new" eastern states were crucial for the AfD’s ascendancy. In the
east, the AfD began to experiment with nativist messages as early
as 2014. Their electoral breakthroughs in the state elections of
this year helped sustain the party through the wilderness year of
2015 and provided personel, ressources, and a template for the
AfD’s transformation. Since its inception, support for the AfD in
the east has been at least twice as high as in the west. This can
be fully explained by substantively higher levels of nativist
attitudes in the eastern population. As all alleged causes of this
nativism are structural, the eastern states seem set to remain a
stronghold for the far right in the medium- to long-term.},
}

• Arzheimer, Kai. “Regionalvertretungswechsel von links nach rechts? Die Wahl von Alternative für Deutschland und Linkspartei in Ost-West-Perspektive.” Wahlen und Wähler – Analysen aus Anlass der Bundestagwahl 2017. Eds. Schoen, Harald and Bernhard Wessels. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2020. .
@InCollection{arzheimer-2019,
author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
title = {Regionalvertretungswechsel von links nach rechts? Die Wahl von
Alternative für Deutschland und Linkspartei in
Ost-West-Perspektive},
booktitle = {Wahlen und Wähler - Analysen aus Anlass der Bundestagwahl 2017},
publisher = {Springer},
year = 2020,
data = {https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/Q2M1AS},
editor = {Schoen, Harald and Wessels, Bernhard},
}

• Arzheimer, Kai and Carl Berning. “How the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and their voters veered to the radical right, 2013-2017.” Electoral Studies (2019): online first. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2019.04.004

Until 2017, Germany was an exception to the success of radical right parties in postwar Europe. We provide new evidence for the transformation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) to a radical right party drawing upon social media data. Further, we demonstrate that the AfD’s electorate now matches the radical right template of other countries and that its trajectory mirrors the ideological shift of the party. Using data from the 2013 to 2017 series of German Longitudinal Elections Study (GLES) tracking polls, we employ multilevel modeling to test our argument on support for the AfD. We find the AfD’s support now resembles the image of European radical right voters. Specifically, general right-wing views and negative attitudes towards immigration have become the main motivation to vote for the AfD. This, together with the increased salience of immigration and the AfD’s new ideological profile, explains the party’s rise.

@Article{arzheimer-berning-2019,
author = {Arzheimer, Kai and Berning, Carl},
title = {How the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and their voters veered to
journal = {Electoral Studies},
year = 2019,
doi = {10.1016/j.electstud.2019.04.004},
html = {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/alternative-for-germany-voters},
url =
{https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/alternative-for-germany-party-voters-transformation.pdf},
pages = {online first},
abstract = {Until 2017, Germany was an exception to the success of radical
right parties in postwar Europe. We provide new evidence for the
transformation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) to a radical
right party drawing upon social media data. Further, we demonstrate
that the AfD's electorate now matches the radical right template of
other countries and that its trajectory mirrors the ideological
shift of the party. Using data from the 2013 to 2017 series of
German Longitudinal Elections Study (GLES) tracking polls, we
employ multilevel modeling to test our argument on support for the
AfD. We find the AfD's support now resembles the image of European
radical right voters. Specifically, general right-wing views and
negative attitudes towards immigration have become the main
motivation to vote for the AfD. This, together with the increased
salience of immigration and the AfD's new ideological profile,
explains the party's rise.},
}

• Arzheimer, Kai. “‘Don’t mention the war!’ How populist right-wing radicalism became (almost) normal in Germany.” 57 (2019): 90-102. doi:10.1111/jcms.12920

After decades of false dawns, the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) is the first radical right-wing populist party to establish a national presence in Germany. Their rise was possible because they started out as soft-eurosceptic and radicalised only gradually. The presence of the AfD had relatively little impact on public discourses but has thoroughly affected the way German parliaments operate: so far, the cordon sanitaire around the party holds. However, the AfD has considerable blackmailing potential, especially in the eastern states. In the medium run, this will make German politics even more inflexible and inward looking than it already is.

@Article{arzheimer-2019c,
author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
title = {'Don't mention the war!' How populist right-wing radicalism became
(almost) normal in Germany},
journaltitle = {Journal of Common Market Studies},
year = 2019,
abstract = {After decades of false dawns, the "Alternative for Germany" (AfD)
is the first radical right-wing populist party to establish a
national presence in Germany. Their rise was possible because they
presence of the AfD had relatively little impact on public
discourses but has thoroughly affected the way German parliaments
operate: so far, the cordon sanitaire around the party holds.
However, the AfD has considerable blackmailing potential,
especially in the eastern states. In the medium run, this will make
German politics even more inflexible and inward looking than it
volume = {57},
pages = {90-102},
html =
{https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/right-wing-populism-germany-normalisation},
url = {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/afd-normalisation-right-wing-populism-germany.pdf},
doi = {10.1111/jcms.12920},
keywords = {EuroReX, AfD}
}

• Arzheimer, Kai. “The AfD: Finally a Successful Right-Wing Populist Eurosceptic Party for Germany?.” West European Politics 38 (2015): 535–556. doi:10.1080/01402382.2015.1004230

Within less than two years of being founded by disgruntled members of the governing CDU, the newly-formed Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has already performed extraordinary well in the 2013 General election, the 2014 EP election, and a string of state elections. Highly unusually by German standards, it campaigned for an end to all efforts to save the Euro and argued for a re-configuration of Germany’s foreign policy. This seems to chime with the recent surge in far right voting in Western Europe, and the AfD was subsequently described as right-wing populist and europhobe. On the basis of the party’s manifesto and of hundreds of statements the party has posted on the internet, this article demonstrates that the AfD does indeed occupy a position at the far-right of the German party system, but it is currently neither populist nor does it belong to the family of Radical Right parties. Moreover, its stance on European Integration is more nuanced than expected and should best be classified as soft eurosceptic.

@Article{arzheimer-2015,
author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
title = {The AfD: Finally a Successful Right-Wing Populist Eurosceptic Party
for Germany?},
journal = {West European Politics},
year = 2015,
volume = 38,
pages = {535--556},
doi = {10.1080/01402382.2015.1004230},
keywords = {gp-e, cp, eurorex},
abstract = {Within less than two years of being founded by disgruntled members
of the governing CDU, the newly-formed Alternative for Germany
(AfD) party has already performed extraordinary well in the 2013
General election, the 2014 EP election, and a string of state
elections. Highly unusually by German standards, it campaigned for
an end to all efforts to save the Euro and argued for a
re-configuration of Germany's foreign policy. This seems to chime
with the recent surge in far right voting in Western Europe, and
the AfD was subsequently described as right-wing populist and
europhobe. On the basis of the party's manifesto and of hundreds of
demonstrates that the AfD does indeed occupy a position at the
far-right of the German party system, but it is currently neither
populist nor does it belong to the family of Radical Right parties.
Moreover, its stance on European Integration is more nuanced than
expected and should best be classified as soft eurosceptic. },
data = {http://hdl.handle.net/10.7910/DVN/28755},
html = {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/afd-right-wing-populist-eurosceptic-germany},
url = {https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/afd-right-wing-populist-eurosceptic-germany.pdf}
}

Empirically, the line between extremism and radicalism is often blurry, but the distinction has analytical value. In far right politics, a positive view of and personal connections with past authoritarian regimes and their ideologies (most notably National Socialism) is a sufficient condition for extremism. Some of modern radical right parties in Europe (e.g. the Dutch PVV, see (Lange and Art 2011)) completely lack such connections. Others such as the Front National (which eventually expelled their founder and long-time leader Jean-Marie Le Pen over his inability to keep quiet about the Holocaust, see (Stockemer 2017)) or the Sweden Democrats (which banned uniforms and other regalia, see (Jungar 2016)) try to distance themselves from the extreme right. In the German case, the relationship between radical actors and extremist groups and ideas is obviously particularly important.

# 2. Germany: Far-right demand without adequate supply

After World War II, far-right parties have enjoyed limited electoral success in Germany. One of the main reasons for this is that in Germany, parties at the far end of the left-right spectrum remained beholden to the legacy of National Socialism (Kitschelt 1995, 203–206), which made them (mostly) unattractive for voters as well as for capable activists (see (Art 2011, 2018)).

From 1949, the Sozialistische Reichspartei (SRP Schmollinger 1983 see:), a successor organisation of the original Nazi party, won some votes in local and regional elections. But the SRP was declared unconstitutional in 1952 and subsequently disbanded, leaving its members dispirited and the Extreme Right mostly ostracised from politics for more than a decade (Art 2011, 195).

In 1964, the Nationaldemokratische Partei (NPD) was founded, which appealed to a broader constituency including traditional Conservatives, workers, and even Catholics. The party built a viable organisation and campaigned successfully in seven state elections, but remained just below the electoral threshold in the 1969 general election. The became unequivocally extremist and electorally irrelevant for the next two decades (Art 2011, 196–199). During the 1970s and 1980s, it remained focused on issues such as the border with Poland or “justice” for the Wehrmacht that became more and more peripheral for potential voters.

A third wave of right-wing electoral successes in Germany began in the mid-1980s and lasted through the 1990s and the early 2000s. The most interesting party of this period were the Republicans (REP Westle and Niedermayer 1992 see:), a 1983 breakaway from the Bavarian Christian Democrats (CSU). The REP tried to steer clear of open racism and emphasised the core issues of the modern West European right, but their long-term party leader, Franz Schönhuber (1923-2005), frequently expressed his positive view of National Socialism. After endless struggles over the direction of the party his successor, Rolf Schlierer, was successful in enforcing and policing a more moderate party line. By then, the REP where already past their zenith: 1996 was the last time they won seats in a state parliament (Art 2011, 199–203).

In terms of seats, two other parties were more successful than the REP. Between 1987 and 2010, the German People’s Union (Art 2011, 203) campaigned in the city-state of Bremen, where they several times managed to clear a local electoral hurdle that secured them state-wide representation, and in a handful of Eastern states. The DVU, however, was more a personal vehicle for the ambitions of its founder Gerhard Frey (1933-2013), a man who had made a fortune selling publications that aimed at glorifying the deeds of the Wehrmacht and minimising the Nazi crimes (Pfahl-Traughber 2013).

Towards the end of Frey’s life, the party merged with the NPD (Jaschke 2013, 25), which had made an astounding comeback. In the 1990s, the leadership was taken over by a then younger generation, which forged ties with Neo-Nazi and other extremist groups and sought to establish the party as the dominant organisation in the emerging right-wing subcultures in East Germany (Weisskircher 2020, 2–3). While the party had no significant electoral support during the 1990s, the authorities tried to ban the NPD, but the trial collapsed in 2003 when the secret services refused to reveal the identities of their informers within the party leadership (Jaschke 2013, 25). Following this debacle, the NPD won seats in the state parliaments of Saxony (2004, 2009) and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (2006, 2011) and achieved results just below the electoral threshold in a couple of other states. A second failed attempt to ban the party in 2017 has not revived the party’s fortunes, and the NPD (like a plethora of even smaller groups) is marginalised once more. In electoral politics, it has de facto been replaced by the AfD, which has finally managed to unite the formerly fragmented far-right vote and is doing particularly well in the other parties’ former strongholds.

In sum, although there is clearly a demand for right-wing politics in Germany, which is particularly high in the east, right-wing party successes have been few and far between even during the “third wave”. While modern populist radical right-wing parties (PRRPs) have emerged in many other West European polities, the German far-right has remained fragmented and associated with Germany’s traumatic past. With the arguable exception of the early REP, attempts to found PRRPs never got off the ground (Bund freier Bürger, see (Salzborn 2016, 53)) or remained confined to local/state level of politics (STATT-Partei, PRO, see (Decker 2008, 120)) and ended when their founders left politics. The rise of the AfD represents the first nation-wide deviation from this pattern.

# 3. The AfD’s breakthrough, transformation and rise, and the role of the eastern states

Over its short history, the AfD underwent a remarkable transformation (see (Arzheimer 2019; Betz and Habersack 2019; Lees 2018)). The AfD began its life in 2013 as a soft eurosceptic project that billed itself as “liberal-conservative”, i.e. economically liberal yet socially conservative. Its most prominent leaders had been (or could have been) members of the CDU and the FDP. While their early manifestos put them unambiguously on the right and while both the rank and file and the leadership were ideologically heterogeneous, the party was neither radical nor particularly populist during the 2013/14 period (Arzheimer 2015).

In the beginning, there was also nothing that would have suggested a particularly “eastern” profile of the party. The party was formally founded in Oberursel, a prosperous town near the western financial centre of Frankfort, by a small group of mostly western men.1 Alexander Gauland, one of the most influential figures in the party who would go on to lead the party in Brandenburg and became leader of both the delegation in the Bundestag and the national party in 2017 had been born in the eastern city of Chemnitz in 1941. But Gauland fled from the GDR in 1959. He had a career as a bureaucrat and politician in the western state of Hesse and was a member of the old FRG’s elite for about three decades before he became a newspaper editor, journalist, and writer in Brandenburg and Berlin in the 1990s.2

The only prominent easterner at the time was Frauke Petry, who became party leader in Saxony and was elected as one of the AfD’s three “speakers” (party leaders with equal rights) at the first party conference in 2013. But even Petry’s biography was hardly typical: while she was born in Dresden in 1975, her family moved to the Ruhr area in 1990. After finishing secondary school, Petry won a scholarship for the University of Reading in the UK, where she completed a BSc. This was followed by a postgraduate degree, a PhD, and a postdoc at the University of Göttingen. She only moved back to the eastern states in 2007 to set up a company.3 Two other party leaders that rose to prominence in the east – Björn Höcke and Andreas Kalbitz both grew up in western states and only moved to the east in the 2000s when both men were already in their 30s.4

Source: official results; Politbarometer & Deutschlandtrend polls

Figure 3.1: Support for the AfD 2013-2020 (elections and national polling average)

While the AfD’s eastern state party chapters try to appeal to regional and even sub-regional identities and issues (Weisskircher 2020, 4), this is quite typical for Germany’s decentralised political system, and the same is true for all parties in Germany. It was only during the radicalisation of the AfD that some eastern politicians began to make claims on the legacy of the eastern dissidents and the peaceful revolution, mirroring a similar rhetoric deployed by Pegida. Even then, the party as a whole carefully steered clear of presenting itself as a regional political force, which obviously would not have played well in the west.

How did these issues of regional appeal and identity play out in terms of popular support? Figure 3.1 addresses this question. The dark gray line shows support for the AfD in national polls, which was constructed by locally smoothing over the headline numbers from the “Politbarometer” and “Deutschlandtrend” series.5 The various symbols in Figure 3.1 represent election results at the Land (circles), federal (squares), and European (diamond) levels. Hollow symbols stand for individual western states (Land elections), or results aggregated over all western states (federal and European elections). Filled symbols represent the analogous numbers for the eastern states.

The leftmost symbols in the plot show that even in the 2013 federal election when the party’s image was shaped by members of the western elites, the AfD was slightly more successful in the east. The difference is tiny in absolute numbers (1.5 percentage points) but may have been of psychological relevance for party activists, as it put the party just above the electoral threshold in the east.

This (relatively small) east-west difference was replicated eight months later when the AfD won its first seats ever on a vote share of 7.1 per cent in the European parliamentary election. However, the party’s public perception at this time was dominated Bernd Lucke, a professor of economics at the University of Hamburg, another westerner to whom the media often simply referred as “the founder” of the party.6 Lucke led the slate of candidates for the European Parliament, all of whom had a similarly western background (Arzheimer 2015, 552).

At what point in the trajectory did the AfD’s breakthrough occur? As (Art 2011, 4) observes, there is no undisputed definition of “what constitutes an electoral breakthrough” in the literature. Although the AfD remained just below the threshold in the 2013 federal election, their vote share of 4.7 per cent was certainly enough to “attract the attention of the media and other political parties”, one potential criterion mentioned by Art.

Conversely, their good result in the European election was perhaps less relevant for establishing the party as a relevant player than it seemed at the time. First, turnout (48 per cent) and public interest in the election were low, and there was no (explicit) electoral threshold so that a whole host of non-established parties won seats.7 Second, German media rarely report on MEPs and their work and do not treat politicians in the European arena as on par with the national or regional ones. Third, and relatedly, Lucke and the other members of the AfD’s delegation spent at significant amount of their time in Brussels and Strasbourg, which somewhat isolated them from their fellow party members.

In short, the European election result alone would probably not have conferred “persistence” (Art 2011), but the elections in the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia that followed in August and September certainly did. At a time when the national polling average was barely above the electoral threshold, the eastern state parties won between ten and twelve per cent of the vote. This gave the party 36 state-level MPs, all based in (eastern) state captials and equipped with considerable resources. Each single state party delegation was bigger than the AfD group in the European Parliament.

Apart from a focus on regional instead of European issues, the manifestos in Brandenburg and Thuringia very much resembled the European one. All three stated a preference for a “Canadian style” point-based immigration regime and discussed migration almost exclusively in economic terms. While they had a socially conservative slant and while the Thuringian manifesto featured an early attack on political correctness, none of the three contained any statements on religion (often a proxy issue for immigration from predominantly Muslim societies, see (Zúquete 2008)). However, the respective party leaders and frontrunner candidates, Alexander Gauland and Björn Höcke, already departed from this script on the stump by framing immigration as a cultural threat and making this their main issue.

The Saxonian manifesto was presumably the first AfD document that explicitly mentioned Muslims by demanding referenda on plans to build mosques with minarets (section IV.2.5). The AfD also warned of a “de-legitimisation of citizen protests [against mosques]” that presaged the “Pegida” movement which began in October 2014, and campaigned against “integration folklore” including anti-discrimination courses. Three months later Petry said that Pegida represented “issues that had been neglected by politicians” while members of the state party leadership joined in the protests (FAZ 11.12.2014, page 4). The AfD’s delegation in the Saxony parliament met with Pegida’s leadership in January 2015 but could not agree on a closer co-operation, not least because of personal animosities. At the grassroots level, however, there was a substantial overlap between AfD and Pegida activists (Vorländer, Herold, and Schäller 2016, 39–43).

The twin question of the party’s relationship with Pegida and other far-right actors and its position on right-wing populism more generally soon evolved into a major cleavage within the AfD. Early in 2015, it became linked to the conflict over Lucke’s attempts to centralise power in his own hands. Nationwide support for the AfD was stagnating at best (see Figure 3.1), and the party barely scraped past the electoral threshold in the city states of Hamburg (Lucke’s home state) and Bremen. The (mostly western) “liberal-conservatives” blamed this on the attempts to move the party further to the right, while the (mostly eastern) proponents of this new course pointed out that the Hamburg and Bremen state parties had failed to capitalise on the immigration issue and had not invited successful eastern leaders such as Gauland and Petry to campaign (FAZ 17.02.2015, page 4).

In March 2015, some of the right-most party members launched the “Erfurt resolution”, a rallying cry against Lucke’s alleged attempts to bring the AfD into the mainstream (Arzheimer 2019, 92–93). Supporters of the manifesto became known as the “wing”, an informal faction within the party whose influence grew over the years. The meetings of the wing were named for the Kyffhäuser monument in the eastern state of Thuringia, which has been a focus of right-wing extremist mobilisation since the 1890s. Three of the most prominent members of the wing – Björn Höcke, Andreas Kalbitz, and Andre Poggenburg – were or would become leaders of eastern state parties, and Gauland signed the resolution during his tenure as party leader in Brandenburg. A related network, the “patriotic platform”, which partly overlapped with the wing and was disbanded in 2018, was also largely based in the east, although neither was exclusively eastern.

After the Bremen election in May, Lucke emailed all party members and urged them to support a competing manifesto/faction called “Weckruf” (wake-up call). At the request of his co-leaders, Lucke was subsequently locked out of the internal mailing system (FAZ.NET 18.05.2015). After Petry reached an agreement with the ultra-rights within the party at the party conference in July 2015, Lucke, four of the other six MEPs, and about ten per cent of the members including a number of mid-level functionaries left the AfD.

This conflict had two major consequences. First, the party’s leadership structure remains highly fragmented even by German standards to the present day. Public disagreement between the two remaining speakers and within the national executive is frequent, and the state-level chapters retain a high degree of autonomy. Second, Frauke Petry, who replaced Lucke as the AfD’s most prominent face, first encouraged, then failed to contain a shift to the right. Under her stewardship, the AfD became a more or less normal radical right party, and their electorate changed accordingly (Arzheimer and Berning 2019).

As depicted in Figure 3.1, support for the AfD hovered below or just above the electoral threshold during and after the power struggle. Apart from the two remaining MEPs, Marcus Pretzel (who also led the state party in North Rhine-Westphalia) and Beatrix von Storch (who became leader of the Berlin state party in 2016), the eastern state MPs were the only party members holding public offices, and the AfD looked very much like another failed far-right project.

Support for the transformed party began to rise again towards the end of 2015 against the backdrop of the so-called refugee crisis (according to Gauland “a present for the party” (Der Spiegel, 12.12.2015) and reached between 12 and 15 per cent in nationwide polls. In the 2016 Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate state elections, the party won bigger vote shares than any far-right party had since the war. But these results paled in comparison to the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, where a particularly right-leaning state party led by Poggenburg won almost a quarter of the vote.

Conversely, their results in a string of western state elections held in the spring of 2017 were disappointing for the party, reflecting both a decline in national polls and persistent east-west differences. Just before the federal election in September 2017, the AfD had won 73 seats in western state parliaments but 100 seats in the east.

In the 2017 Bundestag election, the AfD did comparatively well in the west (11 per cent) but extraordinarily well in the east (22 per cent). Although less than a quarter of the population lives in the eastern states including Berlin and although turnout is lower in the east (which affects territorial representation), about one third of the 94 new federal MPs were elected in the east. Put differently, while about 25 per cent of the party members lived in the eastern states (Niedermayer 2019, 6, 19), they made up roughly one half of the party elite. The extraordinary good results in the 2019 eastern state elections have further tilted this balance.

Since the 2017 election, national support for the AfD has waxed and then waned as immigration moved down the political agenda and the most extreme elements within the party came under scrutiny by the media and the authorities, but the general pattern in Figure 3.1 has remained stable: with the exception of Berlin (an atypical eastern state), support for the AfD is twice, if not three times higher in the east than in the west for both state and national elections.

Marked differences in support for radical right parties are not unusual per se. The French Rassemblement National (formerly the Front National) has longstanding strongholds in the south, the north east, and now also in the north west, that partly represent urban/rural and economic cleavages. The Italian Lega began its life as a regionalist and even nominally separatist party, and the Vlaams Belang is confined to Flanders and Brussels.

What sets the AfD apart from other radical right parties in Europe is first that they are cultivating ties to right-wing extremist actors, with openly extremist ideas and codes becoming more acceptable within the party, particularly since the 2017 election. These developments are often attributed to the growing influence of the wing faction. At the time of writing, the wing had come under surveillance by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and had disbanded at the request of the national executive in April 2020. As the wing never had any formal structures and as its members were not expelled from the party proper, this was widely seen as a diversion. In May 2020, a slim majority of the national executive also voted to declare Kalbitz’s membership null and void, because he had failed to declare previous memberships in extremist organisations, but Kalbitz is currently fighting this decision in the courts.

Second, extremist tendencies seem to be particularly pronounced in the east on both the elite and the voter level.8 This raises profound and uncomfortable questions about the state of democracy and political culture after unification, which I will address in the next section.

# 4. A micro-level model of the AfD vote in east-west perspective

section-micro In the previous section I have shown that the AfD is much more successful in the eastern states than in the west. At the same time, the party presents a more openly extremist facade in the east. Also, it has been known since the early 1990s that levels of nativist attitudes and right-wing extremist activism and violence were substantially higher in the east than in the west after unification (see e.g. the many contribution in (Kurthen, Bergmann, and Erb 1997)) and have remained high or even risen further (see (Rucht 2018) and the chapter by Jäckle and König in this volume). In the literature, a whole host of plausible causes and mechanisms for this discrepancy is debated.

One recent example is the contribution by (Betz and Habersack 2019), who suggest that “pent-up emotions provoked and engendered by the collective psychological shocks, traumas and injuries sustained in the years following unification, which have apparently never fully healed” (Betz and Habersack 2019, 116) are ultimately responsible for the rise of the AfD in the east. Importantly, (Betz and Habersack 2019) claim that (in line with classic theories of the frustration-aggression nexus) the effect of these experiences is moderated by nativism. Related and compatible explanations stress the legacy (broadly defined) of the GDR, persistent east-west differences in social and economic statuses, and self-selection effects.

All these explanations posit that populist, nativist, and even extremist attitudes provide a link between the social, economic, political, and historical context of the eastern states one the one hand and the disproportionate success of the AfD on the other. Put differently, differences in support for the AfD are assumed to result from differences in demand for populist and far-right politics. This raises three questions that will be addressed in the remainder of this chapter:

1. Are populist, nativist, and extremist attitudes really more prevalent in the eastern states?
2. Do these attitudes have a stronger or otherwise diverging impact in the east?
3. Are attitudinal differences in level and effect sufficient to explain the diverging appeal of the AfD, or is there an additional, region-speficic component to the AfD’s success in the east?

Addressing these questions requires both adequate data and a statistical model for estimating the prevalence and electoral impact of these attitudes. Because constructs such as nativism are complex and not directly observable, each of the attitudinal variables should be operationalised by multiple indicators. A recent wave of Germany’s General Social Survey (ALLBUS) provides data that are almost ideally suited to address these questions. Field work took place from April 2018 until September 2018, a period when the AfD had become a nationwide political force whose connections to right-wing extremists actors were discussed more widely than before.

The survey includes a host of items designed to measure specific backlash against immigration and immigrants as well as more general nativist tendencies. While it lacks items that measure authoritarianism, the survey also contains a scale specifically designed to measure populist attitudes.

The ALLBUS also replicates a right-wing extremism scale that was developed at the height of the third wave of right-wing mobilisation during the 1990s. Many items in this battery refer to elements of traditional German right-wing extremism that are rarely polled, including positive evaluations of Hitler and the Nazi regime and support for violence against out-group members. The anti-semitism items included in the original right-wing extremism scale are a borderline case. On the one hand, hostility towards Jews and other ethnic minorities that are not immigrants is an important aspect of nativism, particularly in a eastern European context where immigration is a very recent phenomenon. On the other, anti-semitism is such a crucial aspect of Nazism that I retained them as a part of the right-wing extremism scale. Tables 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3 give an overview of how the constructs were operationalised.

Table 4.1: Indicators for populism

 Variable Text (pop01/pa29) (The Members of the Bundestag must only be bound to the will of the people.) pop02/pa30 Politicians talk too much and do too little. pop03/pa31 An ordinary citizen would represent my interests better than a professional politician. pop04/pa32 What they call compromise in politics is in reality just a betrayal of principles. pop05/pa33 The people and not politicians should make the important political decisions. pop06/pa34 The people basically agree what needs to happen politically. pop07/pa35 Politicians only care about the interests of the rich and powerful. Note: The first variable name (e.g. pop01) is the one used in the replication files, the second one (e.g. pa29) is the name in the original ALLBUS data set (ZA 5270). Where necessary, variables were recoded so that higher numerical values correspond to stronger populist orientations.\par

Table 4.2: Indicators for right-wing extremism

 Variable Text (px03) (In some circumstances a dictatorship is a better form of government. ) px04 National Socialism also had its good sides. px05 If it hadn’t been for the holocaust Hitler would be regarded as a great statesman today. px08 The Jews still have too much influence. px09 There is something peculiarly different about the Jews which stops them from fitting in with us. px10 I can understand that people carry out attacks on homes for asylum seekers. \footnotesize Note: Variable names are the same for both the replication files and the original ALLBUS data set (ZA 5270). Variables are coded so that higher numerical values correspond to stronger right-wing extremist orientations.

Table 4.3: Indicators for nativism/anti-immigrant sentiment

 Variable (px01) (I am proud to be German) px02 It’s about time we found the courage to have strong national feelings again px06 Because of its many resident foreigners, Germany is dominated by foreign influences to a dangerous degree px07 Foreigners should always marry people from their own ethnic group mig1/pa09 Immigrants should be required to adapt to German customs and traditions mig2/pa17 Immigrants are good for Germany’s economy (rev) mig3/pa19 The influx of refugees to Germany should be stopped mig4/mp16 Refugees: a risk for the welfare state mig5/mp17 Refugees: a security risk mig6/mp18 Refugees: a risk for social cohesion mig7/mp19 Refugees a risk for the economy Note: The first variable name (e.g. mig1) is the one used in the replication files, the second one (e.g. pa09) is the name in the original ALLBUS data set (ZA 5270). Variable names starting with px were retained. Where necessary, variables were recoded so that higher numerical values correspond to stronger nativist orientations.

Structural equation modelling (SEM) provides the natural framework for analysing these data. SEM simultaneously estimates measurement models for the attitudinal variables as well as a structural model that links them to (intended) voting behaviour. Estimates are corrected for measurement error.

Figure 4.1: A structural equation model of AfD voting

Figure 4.1 shows the overall structure of the model. Right-wing extremism, populism, and nativism are latent variables that may be positively related to each other. They are all assumed to have positive effects on voting for the AfD. The size of these effects and the strength of their inter-relationships are allowed to vary across regions. The means of the attitudinal constructs are allowed to vary, too.

However, for such any interregional comparisons to be valid, the measurement models need to work in equivalent ways in both parts of Germany. More formally, “scalar invariance” of the measurement models is required. Scalar invariance means that for all indicators, both the intercepts and the factor loadings can be constrained to be the same across regions (Davidov 2009, 69) while still achieving a good model fit.9 Indicators’ residual variances (i.e. measurement errors) are still allowed to vary under the assumption of scalar invariance.

A preliminary measurement-only model shows that two items have estimated measurement errors in excess of 80 per cent: px01 (national pride) and pop01 (MPs bound by will of the people) are very unreliable measures of nativism and populism, respectively. Presumably the wording of both items is too soft so that a plurality or even a majority of respondents fully agrees with the statements. Therefore, they were dropped from the final model. A third item’s (px03, dictatorship sometimes better) measurement error exceeds 80 per cent in the east only and was therefore dropped, too. As this was the only substantive regional difference in measurement errors, the full model was re-specified assuming “strict invariance”, i.e. identical measurement errors in both regions. This reduces the number of parameters that need to be estimated by 21, making for a much more parsimonious model.

All latent variables were given variances of one. Their covariances therefore reduce to correlations, and factor loadings reflect a change of one standard deviation in the latent variable. Because voting intention was modelled as a binary10 choice (AfD vs any other party), the respective effects on this variable are probit coefficients. All other coefficients can be interpreted like in a linear regression model.

Estimation was carried out in MPlus 8.2, using the WLSMV estimator. This estimator has the added benefit of handling cases with missing values in a transparent fashion.

Even under strict invariance, the model fit is excellent with an RMSEA of 0.033 (CI 0.031; 0.035). Table 4.4 shows the intercepts and factor loadings for all 21 indicators as well their residual variances. In sum, the results show that the remaining 21 items are reliable indicators for the latent variables.

Table 4.4: Measurement models

 loadings intercepts residual variances POP2 0.66*** 3.92*** 0.52*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.02) POP3 0.75*** 2.69*** 0.87*** (0.03) (0.02) (0.03) POP4 0.83*** 3.00*** 0.61*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.02) POP5 0.69*** 2.99*** 0.95*** (0.03) (0.02) (0.03) POP6 0.65*** 2.79*** 0.96*** (0.03) (0.02) (0.03) POP7 0.68*** 3.10*** 0.73*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.02) PX02 0.56*** 3.70*** 0.96*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.03) MIG1 0.60*** 4.06*** 0.67*** (0.02) (0.03) (0.02) MIG2 -0.66*** 3.36*** 0.77*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.02) MIG3 1.01*** 2.71*** 0.68*** (0.03) (0.03) (0.02) MIG4 0.64*** 3.70*** 0.51*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.01) MIG5 0.54*** 3.94*** 0.34*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.01) MIG6 0.68*** 3.34*** 0.62*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.02) MIG7 0.74*** 3.00*** 0.60*** (0.02) (0.02) (0.02) PX06 1.15*** 2.77*** 0.64*** (0.04) (0.03) (0.02) PX07 0.59*** 1.84*** 0.88*** (0.02) (0.03) (0.03) PX04 0.70*** 1.63*** 0.64*** (0.03) (0.04) (0.02) PX05 0.53*** 1.57*** 0.85*** (0.03) (0.04) (0.03) PX08 0.82*** 1.79*** 0.65*** (0.03) (0.04) (0.03) PX09 0.68*** 1.64*** 0.58*** (0.02) (0.04) (0.02) PX10 0.50*** 1.36*** 0.60*** (0.02) (0.04) (0.02)

Table 4.5: Correlations between latent variables

 West East Right-wing extremism with Nativism 0.63*** 0.62*** (0.02) (0.04) Right-wing extremism with Populism 0.45*** 0.52*** (0.03) (0.05) Nativism with Populism 0.60*** 0.67*** (0.02) (0.04)

Before turning to the attitudes and their impact on the AfD vote, it is worthwhile to consider the relationships between nativism, populism, and right-wing extremism. Although these attitudes are conceptually different, Table 4.5 shows that they are highly intercorrelated, with correlations ranging from 0.45 to 0.67 and being virtually identical across both regions. Substantively, these correlations imply that the attitudes share up to 45 per cent of their variance. In other words, someone who scores high on one concept is more likely to score high on the others, too (and vice versa). Importantly, the relationship is by no means perfect, which means that the effects of all three variables remain separable and can be estimated net of each other.

As the measurement models for the three scales are invariant across regions, the first of this section’s guiding questions can be answered readily: Table 4.6 shows that easterners and westerners differ significantly on all three dimensions. Differences are particularly large for populism and nativism with values just below/above 0.4.

Table 4.6: Attitudinal east-west differences

 East-West differences Populism 0.38*** (0.04) Nativism 0.41*** (0.04) Right-wing extremism 0.16* (0.07)

Because the latent variables were given unit variance, these differences are standard deviations. Moreover, the latent variables are assumed to be normally distributed, which simplifies the interpretation of these standard deviations, as about 50 per cent of respondents will have scale values not more than 0.674 standard deviations above or below the mean, with 90 per cent of respondents falling between $\pm$ 1.64 standard deviations from the mean.

Figure 4.2: Distribution of latent nativism and populism in the eastern and western states

The substantive meaning of these differences is hard to grasp. What exactly does an average difference of 0.4 standard deviations imply? A thought experiment may be helpful: if one would randomly select pairs of respondents from both regions, six out of ten times the easterner would hold more extreme views than the westerner. In five of ten cases, this difference would amount to more than half a point on the scale, and in roughly four out of ten cases, the gap would be wider than one scale point.

Figure 4.2 further helps to illustrate the implications. While a difference of 0.4 may seem small (there is considerable overlap between both distributions), the pointed shape of the distributions leads to substantial differences . For example, only ten percent of western respondents have a score of more than 1.28 on the nativism scale (the darker shaded area under the solid curve). In the east, this share is about twice as big (the total shaded area under the dotted curve).

Table 4.7: Regression of AfD vote on extremism, nativism, and populism

 West East Right-wing extremism -0.15* -0.04 (0.06) (0.08) Nativism 0.78*** 0.81*** (0.07) (0.11) Populism 0.20*** 0.04 (0.05) (0.09) Constant -1.46*** -1.40*** (0.04) (0.05)

To ascertain whether these substantial distributional differences are big enough to fully account for the differences in the AfD’s success across regions, one needs to address the second guiding question, i.e. consider the size of the effects that the attitudes have on the AfD vote. Table 4.7 shows the probit regression of voting for the AfD on nativism, populism, and right-wing extremism. In the west, nativism has a strong positive effect. Populism has a considerably weaker (but still significant) positive effect, too. Right-wing extremism has an effect that is comparable in magnitude to populism but negative. There is no obvious explanation for this unexpected negative sign.11

In the east, estimates are less precise because the size of the subsample is smaller. Controlling for nativism, neither the effect of right-wing extremism nor the effect of populism is significantly different from zero. However, like in the west, nativism exerts a very strong effect. In sum, while populism and extremism have slightly different (non-)effects, these differences cannot be responsible for the higher levels of AfD support in the eastern states.

Conversely, the effect of nativism and also the constant are virtually identical across regions. The constant gives the “probit” (a non-linear transformation of probabilities) of AfD voting for respondents whose levels of nativism, populism, and extremism are exactly zero, i.e. at the western averages. Reversing the probit transformation by plugging the constant into the cumulative distribution function of the standard normal yields the predicted probability of an AfD vote for such a person: $\Phi(-1.4) \approx$ 8 per cent. Importantly, this value does not differ significantly across regions. This finding is the answer to the third question: if easterners were on average no more as nativist, populist and right-wing extremist as their western compatriots, the party would have no specific advantage in the eastern states. Higher levels of nativism are the driving force behind the AfD’s disproportionate success in the eastern states.

Figure 4.3: Nativism and predicted AfD support in both regions

To illustrate what this means in terms of political support for the AfD, Figure 4.3 shows how AfD voting depends on nativism, and how the difference in the distribution of nativist attitudes affects the party’s fortunes in both regions. In the west, 25 per cent of the respondents have nativism scores of -0.67 or less, which translates to a probability of AfD voting of no more than 2.5 per cent. Another 25 per cent register values of 0.67 and more on the nativism scale, which result in a predicted probability of at least 17.5 per cent. For the average west German respondent, the predicted probability of an AfD vote is about 7 per cent.

In the east, 25 per cent of the respondents have nativism scores of less than -0.26, which comes close to the west German average and translates to just over 5 per cent AfD support. The upper 25 per cent of respondents have nativism scores in excess of 1.08, and their propensity to vote for the AfD is at least 30 per cent. Finally, the mean nativism score for the eastern states is 0.41 (i.e. closer to the upper western quartile than to the western mean), resulting in a predicted probability of just over 14 per cent.

In sum, the model predicts that the prevalence of nativism in eastern Germany should lead to levels of AfD support that are roughly twice as high as in the west. This is broadly in line with the actual electoral results presented in the previous section.

# 5. Conclusion

The AfD is Germany’s first nationally successful radical right party. It is not a regional party, but a longitudinal analysis of electoral results and polling data shows that its disproportionate success in the eastern state was critical for its breakthrough and survival during its early years. Even today, the party would come uncomfortably close to the electoral threshold without its voter base in the east states (Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia in particular).

Unlike many other radical right parties, the AfD has moved closer towards traditional right-wing extremism, and existing ties to far-right actors have become more visible. Predominantly eastern networks within the party have played an important but by no means exclusive role in these developments. Commercial surveys such as the “Politbarometer” series suggest that this limits the party’s electoral prospects, as a large segment of the population sees the party as unelectable.

Using psychometric scaling techniques and high-quality survey data from the ALLBUS series, it could be shown that respondents from the eastern states are on average substantially more nativist and more populist than their western compatriots. Easterners are also more right-wing extremist, but this difference is smaller.

Moreover, the data show that nativism has a strong and consistent effect on the AfD vote. Given the strength of this effect, the difference in average levels of nativism is sufficient to account for the AfD’s disproportionate levels of support in the east.

There are many plausible, competing, and ultimately compatible explanations as to why respondents in the east are more nativist than westerners. Within the confines of this chapter and with the data at hand, it is impossible to empirically separate their relative contributions. However, all these explanations point to factors that are stable in the medium- to long-term. This suggests that eastern demand for far-right politics, and by implication for a radical and even extremist AfD, is here to stay.

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5These polls are conducted by FGW and Infratest dimap and funded by Germany’s major public broadcasters ZDF and ARD, respectively. The smoothing is by local polynomial regression fitting with a span of 0.25. Because the population of the western states is roughly four times as big as the population of the eastern states, this curve is more strongly affected by public opinion in the west.

7Germany had enacted a three-per-cent threshold for European elections in 2013, but this was declared void by the Federal Constitutional Court in February 2014.

8This is partly an oversimplification, as there are plenty of examples of extremism in the western chapters, too. Katrin Ebner-Steiner, the chair of the AfD’s delegation in the Bavarian state parliament, is a member of the wing (https://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/afd-kathrin-ebner-steiner-greding-nationalhymne-1.4432704 (May 15, 2020)). Doris von Sayn-Wittgenstein was the AfD’s leader in Schleswig-Holstein from 2017 until 2019, when she was expelled over her relationships with a number of extremist organisations. Wolfgang Gedeon became a member for the AfD in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament in 2016. When the parliamentary leadership tried to remove the whip from him because it emerged that he had written a number of anti-semitic books, the delegation split for a while. He was only expelled from the party in 2020. In the Saarland, leader Josef Dörr and his deputy also had ties to extremists and were accused of running the small state party like a personal fiefdom. The national executive tried to disband the state party in 2016 but lost a court case. In March 2020, the national executive deposed Dörr and appointed a caretaker leadership over fresh allegations of irregularities: https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/afd-spitze-setzt-saarlaendischen-landesvorstand-ab-a-894a7c1f-571d-4d5f-a110-67a1ce23f0e4 (May 15, 2020).

9For each indicator, its intercept represents the expected answer when the latent variable (e.g. populism) that is measured by it has a value of zero. The factor loading represents the expected change in answering behaviour when the latent variable goes up by one unit.

10The (very few) respondents who said they would not vote in a general election as well as voters for “other” parties not currently represented in the Bundestag were excluded.

11Voters for “other” parties including the NPD and even smaller splinter groups had been excluded from the analysis, ruling out the notion that the AfD could be perceived as too tame for true extremists. One should, however, bear in mind the ceteris paribus nature of the statistical model and the strong correlations amongst the three attitudinal variables: someone who scores high on the right-wing extremism scale probably also scores high on the other two, and the dominant positive effect will still push them towards the AfD.