Far-right Alternative für Deutschland party’s surge in polls triggers alarms in Berlin

Candidates win mayoral and county manager roles in first for party as support grows in east of country

Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is on a roll, winning its first-ever mayoral position just as it surges to second place in a leading opinion poll.

Alarm bells are ringing in Berlin as the party surged to 21 per cent in the latest Insa survey on Monday evening, two points in advance of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) and closing in on the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on 25.5 per cent.

“More and more people don’t just support the AfD, they realise, too, that the CDU is not part of the solution rather part of the problem,” said Dr Alice Weidel, AfD parliamentary leader.

A second poll on Tuesday morning showed the CDU on 28 per cent and the AfD on 20 per cent, but still one point in advance of the SPD.


The polls come as AfD candidate Hannes Loth, a 42-year-old farmer, was elected mayor of the small town of Raguhn-Jessnitz near Dessau in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt.

In a run-off poll he took 51.1 per cent of the vote against 48.9 per cent for an independent candidate to become mayor of the town, which has 9,000 inhabitants.

It is the first time the AfD has secured a mayoral position in Germany and comes a week after an AfD candidate in the neighbouring state of Thuringia won a county manager role for the first time.

The surge in AfD support is not countrywide, with support in eastern states considerably stronger: in Saxony the party is already the most popular with 28 per cent support in polls, three points in advance of the CDU.

Saxony’s CDU minister president Michael Kretschmer, who faces re-election next year, has linked the AfD surge to voter frustration over how current German political debates – over immigration, defence and energy questions – are “skidding towards more of the polarisation we know from America”.

“That is not responsible: exclusion and cancelling others does not get us anywhere,” he said. “We need to talk to each other more in Germany, we must acknowledge that there is more than one opinion.”

Opinions differ widely – particularly in the CDU – on how best to tackle rising AfD Support. Senior regional figures like Kretschmer are calling for greater co-operation with the SPD-lead federal government in Berlin. However CDU federal leader Friedrich Merz has identified the Greens as his main target for political attacks – despite ruling with the party in six state governments.

A decade after the AfD came into life as an anti-bailout protest party, it has pivoted towards a catch-all populist and protest party with a focus on anti-immigrant rhetoric.

While co-operation with the AfD is growing in local politics, all other German parties insist they will not work with the party at state or federal level. That reflects majority public opinion, with just 22 per cent of Germans overall in favour of such alliances in state capitals or Berlin. In eastern states, however, a third think such a boycott of the AfD is wrong while 60 per cent back such a boycott.

Amid the latest surge, political analysts and sociologists are unsure whether this latest AfD surge is a permanent shift or a reflection of passing political uncertainties. In eastern states, many analysts see the party’s strength as payback for years of concentrated grassroots politics.

“They have redefined the big social question here not as a conflict between those up there and those below, or between work and capital, but between us and them,” said Prof Klaus Dörre, a sociologist at the University of Jena, in Der Spiegel. “Refugees and other migrants, according to this narrative, are after our collective capital and they have to go.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin