Merkel vulnerable, polls suggest
Germany’s leading opinion pollster has said it is far from certain that this general election year will end with Angela Merkel as chancellor.
Dr Renate Köcher of the prestigious Allensbach Institute has dismissed the widespread view in Berlin that Dr Merkel is a shoo-in for a third term leading a second grand coalition with the opposition Social Democrats (SPD).
“I’m amazed how many people today seem to assume we’ll have another grand coalition after the next election,” said Dr Köcher yesterday. “That’s a possible scenario but another is an SPD-Green coalition . . . they only need two to three points to win a majority, so in that sense the race is open.”
With nine months to polling day, Dr Köcher said the least likely election result was a return of the current coalition of Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
With the FDP flat-lining in polls, usually on the wrong side of the 5 per cent necessary to win representation in parliament, a poor result for her coalition partners would block one of Dr Merkel’s paths back to power.
That casts a pall over surveys giving her 68 per cent personal approval after seven crisis-filled years in office.
Her personal approval finally seems to be rubbing off on her party, with the CDU above 40 per cent in polls for the first time in years. But the CDU leader has warned against complacency, telling allies her popularity and the party’s current strength might come to nothing if their coalition partner is knocked out.
“This time around it will be the same as always,” she reportedly told confidantes before Christmas, “in the end half a percentage point will decide things.”
Three weeks before a state election in Lower Saxony, a win for the ruling CDU-FDP coalition is anything but a certainty.
A poor showing here for the FDP could eject the ruling coalition from office in Hanover, scupper the FDP’s autumn general election chances and give the opposition SPD a welcome shot in the arm.
It would also send the German leader into election mode with the prospect of one coalition option less than the SPD.
Its chancellor hopeful, Peer Steinbrück, is running to unseat Dr Merkel with an SPD-Green coalition.
If the numbers don’t add up, Mr Steinbrück has ruled out entering another grand coalition under Dr Merkel. But other SPD leaders are keeping silent on that matter.
Two wild cards ahead of polling day in September are just how much the German economy cools down and whether the euro zone crisis heats up again.
“In times of crisis Germans vote for big parties, meaning the CDU could be the strongest party in parliament but lack an FDP coalition partner,” said Dr Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.
“It’s likely we’ll see a campaign from the CDU based strongly around Merkel but designed, too, to boost the FDP and bring them back into the Bundestag.”