SPD launches doorstep offensive to close election gap

Undecideds set to decide the federal election

SPD Bundestag MP Mechthild Rawert during her door-to-door campaign in Berlin’s Mariendorf neighbourhood

SPD Bundestag MP Mechthild Rawert during her door-to-door campaign in Berlin’s Mariendorf neighbourhood


The sticker on the door is unambiguous: “We are already insured against everything. We don’t want to be saved by a sect and we already have a vacuum cleaner and encyclopaedias. Please leave us in peace.”

Finding no mention of politicians, the 55-year-old woman – dressed in a red leather jacket, red shoes and red scarf – rings the apartment bell.

When the door opens, she thrusts a brochure into the hands of the dazed woman inside.

“Hello, Mechthild Rawert, Bundestag MP for the Social Democrats in the Bundestag,” she says “I’m here to promote myself and my party but please go and vote.”

Ringing doorbells is standard election practice in Ireland but in Germany it’s unheard of. People here like their politicians confined to rallies, posters and the television. Germany’s opposition SPD has thrown convention to the wind in its effort to close a 14-point lead on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU).

With polls showing one in two Germans voters still undecided, SPD politicians and supporters have fanned out across the country to ring five million doorbells by September 22nd.

“Our voters are statistically less likely to vote, so the more non-voters we can activate to increase turnout the more likely it is to boost our final result,” said Ms Rawert, an MP since 2005.

Election analysts confirm the party’s logic.

“The SPD still has considerable voter reserves in the undecideds while the CDU has none,” said Prof Manfred Güllner of the Forsa polling agency. “In the last days of campaigning the SPD has always won back more undecideds to relativise the CDU’s lead.”

If the SPD can push voter turnout above the 70 per cent mark it will increase its chances of avoiding a repeat of the 2009 election disaster.Its vote collapsed then to a historic low of just 23 per cent, or 10 million, half of the number of voters who backed Gerhard Schröder to office in 1998.

In Berlin’s southern neighbourhood of Mariendorf, apartment residents seem more surprised than annoyed to see Ms Rawert at their door. Most conversations are brief, 10 seconds at most. In her only lengthy chat with a voter she is berated for a local planning decision that had nothing to do with her.

“I’ve been asked about pensions, tax, God and the world,” she said. The EU or the euro crisis had not come up once.

For Ms Rawert, her campaign to ring 18,000 doorbells by election day is an effort to counteract a growing fragmentation in the electorate and a depoliticised political culture in which German voters seem increasingly happy to back Dr Merkel’s presidential style over any party policy.

After two hours, 72 bells and 43 opened doors, Rawert contemplates her party’s fate. A member of the SPD left wing, she says this campaign is about correcting the unintended consequences of Schröder-era social and labour market reform. For instance the SPD is promising voters an €8.50 statutory minimum wage to stem a precarious labour market that costs the state €4 billion annually in welfare top-ups for low earners. Combined with tax increases for top earners and pension reform, the SPD hoped its social justice platform would win back disillusioned voters.

“But people seem to have ruled out even the idea of redistribution for the common social good,” said Ms Rawert. “Under Merkel we’ve seen a new kind of egoism being bred where people are happy once they’ve got someone weaker they can trample on.”