Jul 032020

Large parts of the GOP are nominally opposed to big government. But they have done nothing to stop the growth of ever more armed police forces – on the contrary. This long read about law enforcement in the US is worrying, but also quite fascinating from a political/administrative science point of view.
Unmarked police in the US, extremists in the German army, and the legacy of Fascism in Italian architecture: 3 links I liked 1
Over the last five years or so, investigative journalists in Germany have uncovered several far-right networks within police forces and amongst active soldiers and reservists. In some cases, large amounts of weapons, ammunition and other provisions were stolen and stashed away in preparation for a future civil war. A whole host of these cases involve the KSK, a special forces unit. Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service, which historically was somewhat reluctant (cough, cough) to address this problem, now says that the right-wing extremism within the ranks has reached “a new dimension”. The agency is currently investigating more than 600 cases of alleged right-wing extremists within the forces. 20 of those concern members of the KSK. It is good and well that the minister is starting to take the problem of right-wing extremists in the KSK and elsewhere more seriously, but it is also a little late.

Authoritarian regimes like to make use of the arts for conveying their message, and arguably, architecture is particularly great when it comes to propaganda. After a regime change, many of these buildings are still useful and in some cases even aesthetically pleasing. So what do you do? I found this article about Italy’s allegedly complacent approach to Fascist architecture quite interesting, but I think the comparison with Germany is a bit unfair: first, many problematic buildings were simply destroyed in the war, second, a lot of the surviving buildings have a dodgy past that is too conveniently forgotten. Case in point: in the 1930s, about 30 amphitheatres (“Thingstätten”) were purpose-built for indoctrination. Many of them survived and are used to the present day for open air concerts.

May 292020


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

Das Handelsblatt hat mit Politikern und Politikwissenschaftlern über den Ausschluss von Andreas Kalbitz aus der AfD gesprochen.

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 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.


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.

Apr 222020

A year ago, Sofia Porcarelli, a student at Occidental College, approached me because she was making a documentary movie about the far right in Germany. That’s way more interesting than a plain old thesis, right? Right. So I was very happy to be interviewed as one of her sources.

Today, I’m even happier to report that Sofia has shared the final product on youtube. Very chuffed, obviously.

Creating Fear: The Rise of the Right Wing in Germany
Watch this video on YouTube.


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.

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

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

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

A vast majority of Germans sees the AfD as a right-wing extremist party 6

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

Back to the future?

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

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


80 per cent of Germans are suspicious of the AfD

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

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

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

Nov 242019
California vs Russia, Ukrainian bribery, Mr P comes to Little Britain, false flag attack in Germany, and the fire-hose of anti-vaxx lies: 5 links I liked 7

Over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin asks an odd yet interesting question: Would Republican voters rather live under a government like that of Russia, or one like that of California?

Barbara McQuade, an actual law professor and former US attorney, argues that what the testimonies from the impeachment hearings add up to bribery.

Still not sure if I really get how it works (there is always the original Gelman piece), but here is a useful primer to “Mr P” and its application to the upcoming General election in the UK

In Germany, a soldier who planned a (false flag) far-right terror attack is to stand trial. Just as scary as his plan is that the magistrate court wanted to dismiss his case. Thankfully, the federal prosecutor appealed to the high court, which ordered their colleagues further down the food chain to begin proceedings. This is very scary, and woefully under-reported.

Why do some political actors spout obvious lies? There is a Rand paper on Russian propaganda which claims that this is a deliberate strategy. And this article in the Guardian applies the idea to anti-vaxxers. Fun fact/bonus track: this is what I see in position 0 (i.e. before any hits) when I type “he spouts lies” into Google.

Trump spouts lies