Climate protection more a slogan than duty for most German voters

Amid floods and fatalities, opinion poll reveals no public mood swing on green issues

German chancellor Angela Merkel: Some 75 per cent of Germans oppose higher petrol prices while just 47 per cent back higher prices on products with CO2-intensive production. Photograph: Timm

German chancellor Angela Merkel: Some 75 per cent of Germans oppose higher petrol prices while just 47 per cent back higher prices on products with CO2-intensive production. Photograph: Timm

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A week after catastrophic floods, and two months before the federal election, some 81 per cent of Germans have said their country needs to do more to fight climate change.

With at least 170 dead and about 150 people still missing, however, an ARD public television poll signalled no public mood swing on the climate issue since the question was last asked in October 2020.

Moreover, the poll showed a 1 per cent drop for the Green Party, Germany’s most vocal proponents of policies to tackle climate change, with a one point rise in support for the lead party in government, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Analysts say that almost exactly two months before Germany chooses a new federal government, led by a new chancellor after the planned departure of Angela Merkel, the poll shows that there is still all to play for.

The survey of nearly 1,200 people – by telephone and online – was carried out on Tuesday and Wednesday, nearly a week after the floods and three days after CDU leader Armin Laschet was pictured laughing and joking after touring a ruined town.

Pre-election boost

Mr Laschet apologised for his behaviour and is now touring flood-hit areas of North Rhine-Westphalia, where he serves as minister-president. At federal level, his party is on 29 per cent support in the ARD poll, 10 points ahead of the Greens, with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in third place, also up one percentage to 16 per cent.

Political scientist Wolfgang Merkel said crises traditionally benefit the executive, potentially handing Mr Laschet a pre-election boost.

“It’s best if Laschet is out and about, presenting himself as a dynamic politician, something many of us struggled to see in him before,” said Prof Merkel of Berlin’s Humboldt University. He suggested a similar bounce is possible for federal finance minister Olaf Scholz, SPD election candidate and key figure in financing recovery plans, while Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock has a problem.

“She has no executive responsibility,” said Prof Merkel. “If she heads to crisis area for images, people will say, ‘What is she doing there? That is a cheap election stunt.’”

Climate vs immigration

A week after Germany’s worst floods in a century the Green Party has held back in the debate, aware that climate protection remains a slogan rather than an obligation in most German voters’ minds.

On the one hand, respondents to the Deutschlandtrend survey cited climate protection most often – 28 per cent – as their main election concern, followed by 19 per cent who mentioned immigration concerns.

When quizzed on concrete climate protection measures, however, some 75 per cent opposed higher petrol prices while just 47 per cent supported higher prices on products with CO2-intensive production.

On their two favourite hobbies, travel and cars, two-thirds of Germans back higher prices for flights while 58 per cent would support a blanket autobahn speed limit of 130 km/h.

Dr Merkel acknowledged on Thursday her efforts to counter climate change during her four terms in office from 2005 were “not sufficient”.