The German far-right soars in the polls in the heat of discontent with Scholz's tripartite | International

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Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, leaders of the AfD, after being elected at the last congress of the formation in June 2022.MATTHIAS RIETSCHEL (REUTERS)

The far right is stronger than ever in Germany. And at the same time – and it is no coincidence – the current coalition government registers its worst valuation data since it began, now a year and a half ago. German voters have never been so dissatisfied with the tripartite Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals, to the point that only one in five respondents say he is doing a good job.

The main beneficiary of this state of opinion is not the Christian Democratic opposition of the CDU, which also, but especially the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right party that stormed the Bundestag in 2017 in the heat of the crisis of the refugees from 2015. If the federal elections were held now, AfD would obtain 18% or 19%, depending on the poll that is consulted. It is exactly the same percentage that the surveys attribute to the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The recent polls confirming the growing trend of the AfD in recent months—one for the public television ARD and another for the daily Bild— have caused an earthquake in Berlin. Attempts to find reasons for this popular support for the ultra-right in a country that maintains a strict cordon sanitaire around the forces to the right of the CDU and their Bavarian Social Christian brethren in the CSU continue. It occurs to no one not to include them in a regional coalition government, but not even to rely on their votes to carry out legislative proposals. For the rest of the parties it is as if the AfD did not exist, although these days they do not talk about anything else.

Germany is no stranger to the reactionary wave that is sweeping Europe, with the ultra-right in the Government (in Italy, Hungary and Poland) or climbing positions, as in Spain, where it is already the third political force, or in France and the United Kingdom, who see how the traditional right-wing parties drift towards the postulates of the more nationalist and populist extreme right.

The AfD is up another two percentage points since May in the detailed and highly respected Deutschlandtrend poll, conducted by Infratest Dimap, which is released by ARD every month, painting a whole new political landscape. The extreme right is now fighting to be the second force behind the Christian Democrats, while the parties of the government coalition are bleeding to death. In several states in the eastern part of the country, the AfD has long been the strongest party.

"In the east there is enormous discontent with the government," says Peter Matuschek, a researcher at the Forsa demographic institute. Some tripartite decisions scare more and more voters, who do not agree with energy policies such as the recent heating law, which will force from next year to install boilers that work with renewable energy instead of traditional gas or diesel. The decisions on the war in Ukraine, or the hesitations of the government team on key issues such as the shipment of weapons, the closure of the nuclear plants or the next Budgets also cause disappointment. "There is a general disappointment with the federal government and, especially in the east, a rather aggressive rejection of everything that comes from Berlin," adds Matuschek.

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Unpopular energy measures

The center-right bloc formed by the CDU and the CSU now leads the polls, with a 29% vote intention. This is a significant improvement after the 24.1% they obtained in the September 2021 elections. Then the SPD triumphed with 25.7% and allied itself with the Greens (14.8%) and with the liberals of the FDP (11 ,5%). The ecologists came close to 23% a few months later, last summer, but they have fallen again to 15%, weighed down above all by the assessment of Robert Habeck, vice chancellor and minister of Economy and Climate, in charge of putting the Germans on the path of the energy transition with measures that, except for its traditional voters, have been tremendously unpopular.

The three main leaders of the coalition - Scholz, Habeck and the liberal Christian Lindner, finance minister - collapse in personal assessment. In general, all the leaders fall, except for Alice Weidel, co-president of the AfD, and the kinder face of a formation that in recent times has become radicalized with the departure of its more moderate leaders.

If you stick to the AfD's journey since the September 2021 elections, the progress is more than striking. Then they were the fifth force with the most votes, with 10.3% of the votes. With the ultra-right now close to 20%, politicians, experts and the media wonder why it is gaining ground and set off alarm bells. The public television report itself devotes several pages to understanding what moves its supporters. They were asked about the main reason for voting for them and it turned out to be dissatisfaction with the other parties and not so much that they agree with the ultra ideology. Fed up with politics is so great that barely one in three (32%) says they support their policies.

Of course, when going into specific issues, the vast majority mention that they agree with the critical position of the extreme right regarding immigration. They also value the AfD for its ideas on energy and climate policy - radically contrary to those of the tripartite - and its economic proposals. The situation of the German economy, in technical recession and weighed down by much higher inflation than in other eurozone countries, does not seem to be among the main reasons for discontent. Although they are a minority (28%), more respondents say that the economy is doing well and when asked if their own economic situation is good or very good, 65% say that it is.

The opposition leader, the Christian Democrat Friedrich Merz, has once again strongly rejected any type of negotiation with the AfD. "I want to be very clear on this: as long as I am president of the CDU, there will be absolutely no agreement with this party," he said on public television on Sunday night. “That party is xenophobic and anti-Semitic. We have nothing to do with these people and there will be no collaboration of any kind, neither in public nor in private, above or below the table. With me, with us, nothing”.

Merz and Scholz agree on the cordon sanitaire of the AfD, but they differ on the reasons that explain its rise. For the Christian Democrat, the fault lies with the coalition government and especially the policies of Los Verdes, which prohibit and tell citizens what they have to do. "People are fed up with so much paternalism and are letting off steam," the CDU leader said on Sunday. Scholz, for his part, points to the right-wing wave that is sweeping other European countries, which is nourished by the turbulent times, with the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and climate change. It is this uncertainty, he said at an event over the weekend, that ends up giving wings to the formations that exploit "bad mood."

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