Blog posts on the Alternative for Germany (AfD)

The Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD for short) is a populist radical right party in Germany.

Back in 2015, I published an article in which I argue that the AfD was then not yet a populist radical right party. More recently, I have demonstrated how how Alternative for Germany and their voters have changed from 2013-2017. Now, both fit very comfortably into the radical-right template. In yet another contribution, I show how the AfD differs from older extreme right parties in Germany, and how the AfD's rise has affected the Germany polity. I also have an article in German on the competition between Alternative for Germany and the LEFT party for the eastern German vote<. And finally, here is a paper on a href="https://www.kai-arzheimer.com/paper/afd-east-west-cleavage-breakthrough/">why the AfD is much more successful in the East.

The Extreme/Radical Right in Europe is one of my main research interests, and for many years, there had been no (successful) party in Germany to occupy this particular place in the political spectrum. This makes the AfD's rise particularly intriguing for me. Besides writing long-form articles on the party and their voters, I also blog (too much) about them. Here are my most recent posts.

Sep 012020
 

Wie wichtig war die sogenannte Flüchtlingskrise für die AfD? Wie hat sich die Partei entwickelt, und was ist für die Zukunft zu erwarten? Mit Dietmar Neuerer vom Handelsblatt habe ich ausführlich über diese und andere Fragen zur AfD gesprochen.

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Jun 122020
 
Italian Populism, Trump's voters, Germany's Home Office, and Neo-Nazis in Russia : 4 links I liked 1
A retired “general”, a symbolism that is borrowed from France’s Yellow Vests – what could possibly go wrong? Meet Italy’s latest populist craze, the Orange Jackets.

Germany’s Home Secretary said in an interview that the AfD wants to destroy the state and put this interview on the Home Office’s website. Now the FCC ruled that he was not allowed to do that. But the ruling does not say that Seehofer’s claim is factually incorrect. Like in previous cases, the judges upheld a kind of two-bodies-theory. As a politician, Seehofer was free to make this statement, but as a minister he was not allowed to use his official platform for distributing it.

Over at the Quantiative Peace, Joshua Zingher looks at Trump’s base. The bottom line? Trump’s 2020 path to the presidency is narrow. May he stray from it.

Why are German Nazis training in Russia“? That is a bit of a rhetorical question, but the article has at least some answers.

Bonus track: German IR theory-building kit (thread)

https://twitter.com/KilianSpandler/status/1270643085140246528

May 292020
 

What?

I’m currently working on a paper that looks into the role that Germany’s eastern states (aka “the new Länder”, the ex-GDR …) played for the breakthrough and the consolidation of the “Alternative for Germany” party. This figure shows support for the AfD from 2013 to 2020.

The graph is a teeny-weeny bit busy, so here is the extended legend ? Circles are results from state (Länder elections), labelled with state codes. Squares are Bundestag, diamonds are European parliamentary elections. Filled symbols represent eastern Länder, or partial results for the eastern states only (Bundestag and EP elections). Hollow symbols represent the western states/partial western results. The blue line is the (locally smoothed) average over about 200 national elections polls from the Politbarometer (FGW) and Deutschlandtrend (Infratest-dimap) series. There are four main observations.

Graph showing electoral support for the AfD by region (east vs west) and level

Source: official results; Politbarometer & Deutschlandtrend polls

The eastern vote share is consistently at least two times as high as the western vote share

Not exactly a new finding, but the AfD does much better in the east than in the west. In fact, so much better that some observers see the party as specifically eastern problem. This is not correct, but the difference is striking. Even in the 2013 Bundestag election (when the AfD campaigned as a soft-eurosceptic, “liberal-conservative” outfit), the party was clearly more popular in the east. Possible reasons: fewer partisans, lower levels of institutional trust, more xenophobia.

The AfD might not have survived 2015 without the eastern states

Almost exactly 5 years ago, the AfD was almost falling apart (also see just about every other of my blog posts from that period). Support for the party fell below 5 per cent (also see the section after the next), prominent members threatened to leave or simply went. The FAZ called them, in their professional journalistic assessment, “a laughing stock”. Radically transformed (see what I did here?), the party bounced back in 2016, but during this period, their only full-time politicians with access to funding and the media (apart from two remaining MEPs) were about 30 state-level MPs who had won seats in the 2014 series of elections in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia – incidentally on platforms that presaged the AfD’s trajectory towards the Radical Right.

Eastern state MPs outnumbered their western counterparts until 2017

It’s not directly visible in the graph, but: the higher vote share in the east (combined with the electoral calendar, the relatively large number of eastern states, and the disproportionate size of small-state legislatures) meant that until the Bundestag election in September 2017, there were twice as many AfD (state) MPs in the east. Although the east has just over one fifth of the population and about the quarter of the AfD members, a large chunk of the party elite was recruited (though not necessarily born) in the east. Even after the 2017 election, about half of the MPs (state and federal) were eastern.

The AfD’s downward trend began long before Corona

Journalists love a good story, and they like to link the AfD’s current underwhelming performance in the polls to the fact that people are weary of populists in a crisis, and the AfD’s mixed messages on COVID. But it is also clear that the AfD’s support in national polls peaked in 2018. The declining salience of immigration and the revelations on right-wing extremists within and around the AfD have not exactly helped. Support for the party has ebbed and flowed before, and local polynomial regression by design tends to exaggerate trends at the margins of a plot, but it is clear that support began to fall months before Corona became the dominant issue in Germany and elsewhere.

May 252020
 
Die Umfragewerte der AfD sind vergleichsweise schlecht, in der Corona-Krise ist die Partei kein relevanter Akteur. Die Gründe dafür sind nicht ganz neu. Mit dem Kurier aus Wien habe ich über die strukturellen Probleme der Partei gesprochen.

May 172020
 
May 122020
 
Who are the Germans protesting against the COVID-19 measures, and who is benefiting? 2
Last weekend, thousands of Germans took to the streets to protest against the anti-Corona policies. The scenes were quite extraordinary and were widely reported in German and in international media, not least because the rallies were attended by far-right actors and conspiracy theorists.

The good folks at Handelsblatt interviewed some colleagues and me, and someone on the other side of the channel asked me to translate my part. For what it’s worth, here it is ?

“What do you make of the ”new“ disaffection with the government’s COVID-19 policies and the anti-lockdown protests?”

First, a degree of disaffection is perfectly understandable. Also, critiquing the government is part of returning to normality. However, if you look a bit closer, many of the actors involved in the recent protests are part of the radical right or even belong to outright right-wing extremist groups. Like they did with the 2014 “vigils for peace” movement, far right groups are trying to build an alliance with their opponents at the opposite end of political spectrum, not least by appealing to the legacy of the peaceful revolution in the GDR. Well-known merchants of conspiracy theories and esoterics are also part of the package.

“Will the AfD [the major radical right party in Germany] benefit from this? Is this the beginning of a new political movement, comparable to the 2014/15 vigils or the anti-asylum demonstration in 2015/16?”

The 2014/15 cross-spectrum alliance never really took off in terms of popular support. The 2015 anti-asylum protests, on the other hand, were part of the bigger far right movement that had existed for decades. The AfD has been building bridges to this movement since 2015 and, insofar, is already benefiting from it. At the moment, I don’t think that there is much additional potential that they could tap into.

“What is the implication of this for the wider German society, and how should politicians respond?”

It was always clear that the rally ’round the flag effect would not last for ever. A return of dissent and (partisan) conflict over the right strategy and measures was to be expected, and is also necessary for a liberal democracy.

But these demonstrations are only a small and by no means the most significant part of this conflict. For various reasons, they attract a lot of media attention: people openly break the rules on social distancing, there is not much else to report about, and some of the claims and slogans are really out of this world. But actors within parties, civil society, and the media should think long and hard if these demonstrators are really suitable allies for them, and whether they should be paid much attention at all.

May 122020
 
Das Handelsblatt hat mit Politikern und Politikwissenschaftlern darüber gesprochen, was hinter den Corona-Demonstrationen vom letzten Wochenende steckt und ob die AfD davon profitieren kann (tl;dr: vermutlich eher nicht).

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May 082020
 
On May the 8th 1945, the Wehrmacht surrendered, bringing the war in Europe and the terror reign of the Nazis to an end.1 40 years later, then-president Richard von Weizsäcker, himself a former officer of the Wehrmacht and a scion of the same Prussian gentry that for centuries has supplied the army with cadets, kicked a hornets’ nest by calling it “a day of liberation”.2 While the “liberation” angle seems rather obvious, it was revolutionary at the time, especially coming from a (liberal-minded) member of the CDU.

Since then, the debate in Germany’s editorials has never fully stopped. While “liberation” has been the dominant narrative for a while, there are still conservative holdouts that point to the military defeat and ensuing loss of territory.

An initiative to make May 8 a national holiday on its 75th anniversary has come to naught. In a statement that resonates with Trumpian “good people on both sides”, Alexander Gauland, the AfD’s godfather, pointed out that May 8 “is ambivalent. It was a day of liberation for the inmates of concentration camps. But it was also a day of utter defeat …”. Think about this, and the implications, for a second.

In 2020, 77 per cent of Germans see the end of the war as liberation, only five per cent think of it as defeat

Survey data (infratest dimap) on Germans’ views of the end of the war in Europe

Somewhat surprisingly, the general public has moved on from this stale debate a while ago. A survey by infratest dimap shows that like in 2005, more than 75 per cent of the population see May 8 as liberation, while a mere 5 per cent think of defeat, with the rest being ambivalent or not willing/able to answer the question.

The breakdown by party supporters is striking, but not really surprising: more than 30 per cent of the AfD’s supporters see the end of the war as a defeat, for all other parties, this number is in the low single figures. I leave the fact that the FDP has by far the highest number of ambivalents as an exercise for the reader.

Footnotes:

1Incidentally, it is also our wedding anniversary, but that is probably besides the point.

2Were it not inappropriate, you might even say he caught a lot of flack.

Mar 312020
 
MPs under investigation, dying in Germany, quanteda goes 2.0, and academic chapters: 4 links I liked 5
Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution (i.e. the spooks) begins to build dossiers on 3 sitting MPs for the AfD. All of them are prominent members of the most radical faction within the party (in German)

In a landmark ruling, Germany’s highest court declares ban on assisted suicide unconstitutional. Judges say right to end one’s life is fundamental, so assistance can’t be illegal. Germany’s top court paves the way for assisted suicide. Neatly dovetails with my research on bioethical attitudes and legislative behaviour in Germany.

This looks great: version 2.0 of quanteda is ready.

Excellent advice: using social media and open access can radically improve the academic visibility of chapters in edited books.