Right-wing terrorism in Germany often goes unnoticed. Politicians, state agencies, the media, and the general public grossly underestimate the size of the problem. But after the murder of a centre-right politician, all of the sudden this is a big issue for German and international media. And so I got to talk to the BBC’s Newshour program at length. Tune in!
The “Alternative for Germany” began its political life as a softly eurosceptic breakaway from the political mainstream but has changed beyond all recognition. Using a very large dataset covering the full 2013-17 period, Carl Berning and I trace the transformation of the AfD’s electorate, which now fits the somewhat stereotypical radical right template. Read the full article, or watch the highlights in just under 90 seconds.
How the AfD and their voters veered to the Radical Right, 2013-17
The AfD was founded near Germany’s financial centre of gravity (Frankfort) by members of the old western elites. But early on, the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia became important for the further development of the party. It was here, during the 2014 state election season, that the AfD began to toy (very reluctantly at first) with anti-Muslim sentiment. And the ensuing radicalisation of the AfD was pushed by leaders from these three states (Gauland, Höcke, and Petry).
Lokale Hochburgen (Wahlbezirke) von AfD und Linkspartei, 2017. Click for larger version.
In the process, the south-east of the former GDR has become the AfD’s heartland. When Andre Poggenburg, another hardliner, broke away over the AfD’s alleged compromises (and his personal finances and conduct), he set up a new party for “Mitteldeutschland” – the ill-defined and sometimes ill-reputed part at the south-eastern edge of the country.
Regional AfD support in the EP 2019. Made with this excellent tool created by the electoral commissionClick for larger version.
The results of yesterday’s European election are similarly revealing. While their national performance – almost two points below their 2017 national result – must look disappointing from their point of view, they polled up to 33 per cent in some of the south-eastern districts, making them by far the strongest party. And the next round of voting (and government formation) in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia will be interesting, to say the least. If the cordon sanitaire holds, it could result in truly awkward coalitions. And if it doesn’t, all bets are off.
But quite apart from these more practical consequences, such levels of disparity are quite something to behold.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Drei Jahrzehnte nach der Wiedervereinigung unterscheiden sich Lebensumstände, Erfahrungen, Einstellungen, Wertorientierungen und politische Verhaltensweisen von Ostdeutschen und Westdeutschen immer noch deutlich. Im Wahlverhalten zeigt sich dies unter anderem darin, dass in den neuen Ländern Nichtwähler- und Wechselwähleranteile höher sind als im Westen. Auch bei der Wahlentscheidung gibt es fast schon klischeehafte Unterschiede: im Westen schneiden die “Bonner Parteien” besser ab, im Osten die Linkspartei und seit 2014 auch die AfD.
Last year, I did an interview with Luca Manucci for the Populism Observer blog. Luca had some great questions, and I did my best to answer them, based on other people’s and my own research. Though this is certainly not “all you need to know about radical right parties”. All in all, it was a very good experience.
The interview was well received on the interwebs, but I somehow never managed to link to it. Time to correct this omission!
Mit Gauland verlöre die AfD eine der letzten Persönlichkeiten, die nicht auf Grundlage ihrer Positionen, aber doch wenigstens auf Grund ihrer Biographie und ihres Habitus für Medien und Politik als satisfaktionsfähig gilt.
How do people in cities & the countryside react to the presence or absence of immigrants? How does local decline further radical right mobilisation? Are immigrants becoming convenient scapegoats for developments that have nothing to do with them?
Or does the daily interaction between immigrants and the native population foster positive contacts that lead to pro-immigration attitudes? And what role do self-selection of liberal-minded individuals into multi-cultural neighbourhoods on the one hand and “white flight” on the other play?