Since a poll conducted seven weeks ago by Bild am Sonntag showed a drop in voter support for the Social Democrats to 24 percent, the outcome of the German elections has begun to look clearer. And that’s not just because all the polls are showing that the SPD has now slipped to 21 percent and the latest Deutschland Trend poll conducted for ARD television gives the CSU/CDU a 16 point lead compared to its 14 point lead at the beginning of August. What is even more painful for the unfortunate Schultz is the fact that the SPD’s drop is matched by the gains of the right-wing AfD. This, in other words, confirms the results of the poll carried out by the Bertelsman Foundation we cited back in August according to which CDU/CSU supporters are less exposed to the populist appeal than those of the SPD. This embarrassing result accounts for both the sharper attacks leveled by the Social Democratic leader against the AfD and the softening of his tone towards Chancellor Merkel. Also, if the poll results were to be confirmed, the anti-immigration Right would actually become the third strongest political force. But - and this is the unexpected paradox - it wouldn’t weaken the outcome for Angela Merkel. All in all, it would seem that Schultz is set for an electoral as well as political defeat, while Mrs. Merkel is on track for re-election as German chancellor.
For a Social Democratic party weakened by the AfD, at between 11 and 12 percent according to some polls, it would in fact be suicidal to insist on the line taken by Schultz to shut itself out in an opposition coalition with Die Linke and the Greens, polling at 10 and 8 percent. Besides, according to the polls, Chancellor Merkel will have more alternatives than will the SPD. She is probably not too upset by the fact that she’s unlikely to be able to reach a majority in a coalition government with the liberal FDP, currently polling at 9 percent. A second coalition government with the SPD would actually be to her advantage; meanwhile the dialogue has reopened between the CDU and the Greens, who have been out of government for twelve years. But the FDP’s positions on the environment are very different from those of the Greens, further bolstering Merkel’s position as an arbitrator between them. Whether in coalition with a weakened SPD in search of a new policy line, or in the less likely possibility of a government with the Greens and the FDP, Angela Merkel will be the one to decide. If the polls turn out to be right and Schultz is defeated in the elections, Mrs. Merkel would have the best cards to play in another coalition government, with or without the SPD.