Working paper: the east-west divide in support for Alternative for Germany & the Left in 2021

In the 2021 election, the AfD lost some of its western support but basically retained its 2017 levels in the East, widening the existing gap. The Left lost in both regions but still does considerably better in the East.

In a new working paper, I show that that attitudinal differences between East and West can explain a fraction of the East-West gap in AfD/Left support. However, both parties also benefit from an “east bonus”. This is different from 2017, when the AfD enjoyed no such advantage, and suggests that the party’s position in the eastern states has become entrenched.

Anteile von AfD und Linke an den gültigen Zweitstimmen in 91217 Wahlbezirken nach Region und Bundesländern

The paper is in German, but this automated translation is mostly comprehensible (and at some points unexpectedly funny).

Educated trolls

An email that I received from someone who is dissatisfied with my research on the AfD

By virtue of being white, male, middle-aged, and tenured, I get a much smaller dose of online abuse than many less privileged colleagues. Having a slightly overzealous spam filter also helps.

However, back when the world and I were younger, and near-universal Internet penetration sounded like a crazy idea (at least in Germany), I would get the occasional physical piece of fan mail delivered to my pigeonhole.

Invariably, these letters – handwritten in spidery script or lovingly composed on mechanical typewriters – were from elderly, well-educated men: retired doctors, lawyers, or school principals. Sometimes, these guys were simply very conservative and disagreed with something that I had said or written. More often than not, it was difficult to say what they were, because they made some point, then quickly went off-piste.

But without fail, my correspondents were utterly, if often coldly, polite. In a world of slipping standards, it was important for them to address me with the full set of academic titles and outdated phrases they had learned in Grammar school to express the full weight of their disapproval.

Most of them must be dead by now, and for a while, I thought the type may have died. But sometimes, an email slips through which shows that their type is indeed alive and well.

Here is a (google translated) specimen that arrived just this morning in response to our article on the transformation of the AfD’s electorate. It is from a member of said electorate (as an aside, do physicists ever have to bother with a particle they are studying talking back?) who is a bona fide MD or PhD (something that we show in the article to become less and less likely).

Carl and I are awarded the full contingent of academic honours (thankfully, nobody else does that any more), and the most outrageous thing about the whole epistle is the gratuitous use of scare quotes. This lame pronoun joke must have felt seriously transgressive. While I’m not sure if he is who he claims to be, he ends the mail with his full address and even his mobile number. The man is not (obviously) hiding behind some silly social media handle. A throwback to a time when political enemies had manners etc. and were reasonably coherent.

Dear Mr. Prof. Arzheimer,

dear Dr. berning,

Were you able – as is usual in science – to respond to the content and methodological criticism of your “study”, or do I have to continue to assume that it is – as is the case in times of fake news and disinformation at “chairs” for social and political “science” is almost exclusively the case – your “study” is again just content-free, green-leftist propaganda nonsense?

With patriotic-conservative-liberal regards


Pronoun: “Your Serene Highness”

from my inbox

Or is it? The “were you able” business is a bit confusing. Below the sign-off, he quotes a previous email detailing his concerns with our “study”. I have no recollection of this mail, and there is a good chance that it ended up in my spam folder, because the author CCed half the staff at Mainz U as well as dozens of other folks at various institutions in Germany and abroad, including Cas Mudde, who is apparently a notorious producer of “vague nonsense”.

And that email quotes another email originally directed to an MEP and two academics who wrote something else he did not like. Somewhere in between, the whole thing turns into a (still relatively restrained) rant about (female) ministers and (gay) officials, who allegedly fail to stand up against Muslims threatening women and homosexuals. Nice piece of homo-/femonationalism, and even if it were true, I fail to see how any of this is possibly my fault.

And then, a few lines from the botoom of all this quoting, there is the inevitable kicker:

Mr. Gauland at length expressed his contempt for the Nazis and spoke at length about the achievements of German Jews in the German economy, culture and science, before he spoke of the fact that German history was not only made up of these 12 years (“bird shit”).

more stuff from my inbox

Ah, that’s settled then. I may not get many trolls, but I get all the best trolls.

2022 Lower Saxony election: the AfD double their 2017 result

Lower Saxony just held the last of 2022’s four state elections. The result is mostly in line with the pre-election surveys: both the SPD and the CDU (which in this state formed the last remaining Grand coalition) lost a few points, but the SPD remained stronger overall and is perceived as the winner. The Left stood no chance, and the FDP may or may not have made it past the threshold. The Greens nearly (but not quite) doubled their result, and so did the AfD (compare the two artisanal blue circles in the graph).

To put this into perspective, the levels of infighting in the state party are spectacular even by AfD standards. In 2017, the party nearly failed to submit a slate of candidates and managed to get the prosecution service involved in their altercations with the authorities and amongst each others. The AfD eventually scraped past the threshold, but the party executive collapsed on election night. Subsequently, warring factions tried to organise separate party conferences in different locations. In the end, the federal leadership stepped in and appointed an acting state party executive, which unsurprisingly found (amongst other things) that money was missing from the bank. In 2020, three of the state MPs including the 2017 frontrunner candidate left the parliamentary party, which was subsequently dissolved. The 2021 and 2022 party conferences ended prematurely and in disarray.

2022 Lower Saxony election: the AfD double their 2017 result 1

And yet, the AfD just managed to get their best result in any western state since 2018 (compare this to the lousy results in North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein earlier this year). Even if the AfD in Lower Saxony has managed to set their house in order, this is unlikely to be the result of better discipline and stronger candidates alone. It rather points to some kind of recovery in national support that follows a long period of decline and stagnation, which set in even before Covid.

Grievances do not simply translate into far-right support – it’s usually a bit more nuanced than that. And yet, a vote share of 11 per cent in Lower Saxony suggests that the AfD must be benefitting from renewed worries about migration triggered by the war, alongside the new-ish worries about the war itself, about energy security, and about inflation. Whether this is temporary or whether the party will do well in the next round of western state elections (Bremen in May and Bavaria and Hesse later in 2023) remains to be seen.

Wähler extrem rechter Parteien und Methoden zu ihrer Erforschung: zwei neue Arbeitspapiere

files, paper, office

Vor sechs Jahren erschien die zweite Auflage des “Handbuch Rechtsextremismus” von Virchow et al., zu dem ich mich damals etwas kritisch geäußert habe. Umso mehr freue ich mich, dass ich bei neu konzipierten dritten Auflage dabei sein darf. Das Handbuch soll im nächsten Jahr erscheinen. In der Vergangenheit haben sich solche Aussagen häufig als überoptimistisch erwiesen. Deshalb gibt es die Arbeitsversionen beider Beiträge, für die ich vorgesehen bin, vorab hier.

Im ersten Kapitel geht es um das soziale und psychologische Profil der Wählerinnen und Wähler rechtsextremer, rechtspopulistischer und rechtsradikaler Parteien in Deutschland seit 1949. Konkret beschäftigt sich der Beitrag mit der Frage, was wir in über 50 Jahren Forschung über die Unterstützerinnen und Unterstützer von SRP, NPD, Republikanern, DVU und AfD herausgefunden haben.

Das zweite Kapitel beschäftigt sich mit der Anwendung der Methoden der empirischen Wahlforschung auf die Wählerinnen und Wähler der extremen Rechten. Dabei geht es (auf Einführungsniveau) um für die Rechtsextremismusforschung typische Forschungsdesigns und Erhebungsmethoden, um Datenquellen und in aller Kürze auch um Analyseverfahren.

No Putsch in the #AfD

Earlier this year, Jörg Meuthen resigned from his post as co-leader of the AfD and, like two of his predecessors, also left the party. Meuthen, an academic economist, had become a co-leader in 2015 following Lucke’s ouster and had been billed as a representative of the AfD’s ‘moderate’, economically liberal and fiscally conservative faction. Like Petry (Petry does a Lucke, or: The AfD splits again (whimper edition), he had the tacit support of the party’s radicals lead by Höcke. Meuthen subsequently attended meetings of the radicals and was quite friendly with them. Only when parts of the party came under surveillance did he try (largely in vain) to kick (some of) them out of the party.

Meuthen’s departure left Chrupalla, the remaining co-leader, in charge. As far as I know, he has never been a member of the infamous ‘wing’ group, but he certainly has the support of many radicals and Easterners (there is a certain overlap). His leadership can best be described as unremarkable. Over the last months, Chrupalla has come under some pressure, mostly from the remaining ‘moderates’ who blame him for the party’s dwindling electoral support. While I think that there are structural reasons for this decline, he is most certainly not an electoral asset.

No Putsch in the #AfD 2
The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

Before the party conference, Chrupalla came under even more pressure from both macro factions of the party. While one (little known) ‘moderate’ announced that he would run for the position vacated by Meuthen, another (even lesser known) challenged Chrupalla directly, though that always looked like a very long shot. Much more ominous was that Höcke suggested to reduce the number of leaders to one and also hinted that he could finally ‘join the national executive’. While a straight run for the leadership by Höcke was always unlikely, Chrupalla would have struggled to find sufficient support to secure a sole leadership post.

No Putsch in the #AfD 3
Bernd Höcke. Based on work by Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

In the end, not much happened. The party conference did change the constitution and introduced sole leadership as an option for the future, but at the same time, the delegates decided to elect two leaders this time round. Höcke pushed for both motions and so remains in his favourite role as the party’s eminence grise (or bête noire?). Chrupalla was re-elected – with a lousy 53 per cent of the vote. He is joined by Alice Weidel, who already co-leads the parliamentary party with him.

While this might look like a consolidation of power, it is nothing of this sort. Höcke will remain both influential and unaccountable. He may or may not reach for the sole leadership in a couple of years. Weidel got 67 per cent, hardly a ringing endorsement. Both she and Chrupalla are moderately unpopular within their party – people without qualities, apart from being halfway acceptable to the various factions. They are weak leaders, not by accident but by design. Alongside its dual leadership structure (an organisational feature otherwise only found in Germany’s leftist parties), the AfD retains its commitment to high levels of intra-party democracy anarchy.

Another bun-fight in the AfD

Putsch in the AfD?

The AfD is not exactly in free fall, but the party is not doing well. In January, their former co-leader Meuthen threw in the towel. Meuthen had been the most prominent of the self-styled moderates and had aimed to improve the party’s optics by pushing back against the most visible right-wing extremist tendencies within the AfD.

In March, the party scraped past the threshold in the Saarland regional election. Just before the election, two of their three MPs tried to kick the the third one out of the party. Two of the three party memberships involved are currently pending while the national party tries to sort out the mess.

In last week’s state election in Schleswig-Holstein, the AfD remained below the threshold. It was the first time in any election they have contested since 2013. Yesterday, they narrowly escaped the same fate in NRW, winning just 5.4% of the list vote.

These latest results did not come out of the blue. Nationally, support for the party has been more or less static since about 2019. Subnationally, the East-West gap is well-documented. But there is also a North-South gradient that I do not understand very well: previous results in northern states have already been been kind of meh, but now the party has lost the momentum that carried it through the second half of the 2010s. The allegedly unstoppable rise-and-rise may well be beyond its peak.

Another bun-fight in the AfD 4
The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

Against this backdrop and given his very complacent attitude, it is hardly surprising that Tino Chrupalla, the remaining co-leader, has come under fire today. Chrupalla rose to power in 2019 with the not-so-tacit support of the most radical forces within the party. He also represents (and there is some overlap) the particularly successful eastern chapters of the AfD. If one should describe his stewardship of the party with a single word, it would have to be ‘hapless’.

And this is what some members of the national executive did today, though they did it in more words. For them, Chrupalla represents ‘the end of the AfD’s success story’ and must not be allowed to stand again as party leader.

Chrupalla’s counter attack was Michael-Gove-level bizarre: he likened his critics to campers complaining about humidity whilst peeing inside the tent. Mixed metaphors, anyone?

As of tonight, no other members of the leadership have rushed to Chrupalla’s defence. Again, this is not surprising. Backstabbing and a certain level of anarchy are the norm in the AfD, and Chrupalla has always been an odd compromise candidate, some sort of placeholder, not a leader per se.

Nonetheless, Chrupalla says he wants to fight for his job at the party conference next month. There are also rumours that the Meuthen’s bête noire, Björn Höcke, could run for a seat on the executive or even for the leadership, which could split the party and/or confine them to the East. All or nothing of this might come to pass. The one thing I’m sure of is that the infighting will go on.