The popularity of Angela Merkel, who retires from politics after 16 years at the helm of Germany, remains intact. Not only in her country, but throughout Europe, where she is perceived as a leader who has known how to navigate the successive crises on the continent and keep its members united. The Germans would vote a fifth time for Merkel if they could, but they are having a hard time seeing in Armin Laschet, her successor at the head of the conservative ranks, the leader who can best represent them. Attempts, scarce for now, by the chancellor to point out Laschet as the continuation of her policies are being thrown into the polls of voting intention. This Tuesday, the last Forsa poll gave him 21%, compared to 25% of the Social Democrats of Olaf Scholz, who already sees himself as chancellor.
After 16 years at the helm of the first eurozone economy, the image of the Chancellor in the EU is even better than in Germany, according to a survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) among 16,000 citizens from 12 countries presented in Berlin on Tuesday. In the question of who would they vote for if they could directly elect the president of the European Union between her and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, 41% would opt for Merkel and 14% for Macron. The work notes that Merkel’s popularity is overwhelming both in the so-called countries frugales, in favor of austerity, as in those of southern Europe who criticized so much the demands of the chancellor during the crisis. This shows “that it has managed to convey the message that it is committed to addressing the concerns of both sides, thus positioning Germany as a unifying power,” the work says. However, the director of the study, Piotr Buras, warned during the presentation that the same principles will not work for his successor.
The “tailwind” that some Christian Democratic leaders wanted to perceive in Sunday’s three-hour debate, in which Laschet took the initiative and at times cornered Scholz, does not translate into the figures, or not enough. The conservative lost the debate, according to the viewers surveyed, and fell far behind the other two contenders in almost every category: they found him the least competent, the least sympathetic, the least convincing. Laschet repeats that the polls are what they are, a still photo of a moment, and that what matters is the vote of September 26. And trust the undecided, who are many, more than in other electoral appointments. 40% of voters still do not know which party they will support, according to a poll by the Frankfurter Allgemeine. At the same point in the 2017 campaign they were 35%. In 2013, 24%.
Almost two in three said as a reason for their indecision that no candidate to succeed Merkel seemed convincing. Others noted that in the time remaining until the vote, many things can still happen. The truth is that four percentage points of difference are not that many and the mass of undecided, very bulky. In the Forsa survey, in addition, the CDU and its Bavarian sister formation, the CSU, gain two points compared to last week, when it gave them a worrying 19%.
The polls are tight and the Germans, who can support two parties (they have two ballots; one for a list and one for a direct candidate, who does not have to be of the same formation), are also calculating which coalition they could favor with that double vote. Scholz could ally himself with the Greens and the liberals of the FDP, or with the Greens and Die Linke, the post-communist party. But Laschet could also try to form a coalition with the FDP and the Greens and theoretically another Grand Coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats could also emerge. There have never been so many possible combinations.
The victory of the conservatives in Sunday’s local elections in Lower Saxony – where they have been winning for 40 years – has restored some confidence to Laschet’s team, which nevertheless plans to revert to the chancellor’s popularity in at least two rallies before the 26th. Merkel, who has been very reluctant to campaign with him, will support him next Tuesday in Stralsund, her constituency, where she remains undefeated since she was first elected to the Bundestag in 1990.