Is Germany on the verge of a political earthquake?

Never before in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany have the polls been so bad for the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. As recently as April 2020, Angela Merkel’s CDU was leading the polls with thirty-eight percent. Now, depending on the polling institute, the CDU has tumbled to between twenty-one and twenty-four percent. One reason for the party’s declining popularity is that they are running with a very weak candidate for Chancellor. Armin Laschet, currently premier of Germany’s most populous state, has so far failed to inspire both his own party and the wider electorate.

Above all, however, it seems that the left-of-center Social Democratic Party (SPD) is succeeding in deceiving voters to an extent that is also unparalleled in the history of the Federal Republic. The SPD has gained about ten percentage points in recent polls, mainly thanks to its top candidate, Olaf Scholz, who is widely regarded as a relative “moderate.” Yet Scholz has never been popular within his own party. In recent years, the SPD has moved further and further to the far left. It has elected Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans as co-leaders and Kevin Kühnert as deputy leaders. All three of these politicians have adopted positions that are as left-wing as, say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In electing their party’s leaders, the SPD’s members explicitly decided in favor of these extreme left-wing candidates and against Olaf Scholz. So why did the SPD nevertheless appoint the “moderate” Olaf Scholz as its top candidate? For the same reason that the Democrats selected Joe Biden as their presidential candidate. They hope to use Olaf Scholz to mobilize moderate voters who are not as far to the left as the party’s traditional base.

Currently, the leading polls are all pointing toward a coalition of the SPD, the environmentalist Green Party, and the leftist Die Linke. Until just a few years ago, the SPD had always ruled out coalitions with Die Linke at the federal level because the hard-left party was too radical. Die Linke is the latest iteration of the former communist SED party that governed East Germany, having changed its name several times since German reunification. Die Linke is committed to an extensive program of nationalizations, a top tax rate of seventy-five percent, and withdrawing from NATO. Until a few months ago, the party’s new leader, Janine Wissler, was a member of a radical Trotskyist group.