The electoral breakthrough of the AfD and the east-west divide in German politics

Bernd Höcke

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.

Don’t mention the war! How populist right-wing radicalism became (almost) normal in Germany

Picture of AfD leader Alexander Gauland

Introduction In the 1980s, the Populist Radical Right emerged as a new party family. Its members have a number of core characteristics in common: they are nativist, authoritarian, and usually also populist (Mudde 2007). While their relationship with European integration is more complex than it would first seem, they are often also eurosceptic (Vasilopoulou 2018). By the…

How the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and their voters veered to the radical right, 2013-2017

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.

Explaining Electoral Support for the Radical Right

Free Book Chapter

1 Introduction: Voting for the Radical Right Within the larger field of Radical Right studies, the question of why people vote for Radical Right Parties (RRPs) has attracted a large (perhaps disproportionally so) chunk of scholarly attention. There are at least three reasons for this. First, the early (and rather humble) electoral successes of the…

The Alternative for Germany (AfD): Finally a Successful Right-Wing Populist Eurosceptic Party for Germany?

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.